In 2015, the same year as the Paris Agreement was adopted at COP21, the United Nations established its 2030 Agenda, defining a globally shared vision of a sustainable society through a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals – the SDGs. Japan rapidly adopted the SDGs framework, establishing a national committee under the Prime Minister’s authority, and launching various initiatives to use the UN’s framework to raise awareness in the country.
In 2015, Japan ranked 13th in a global comparison of nations’ progress towards the 2030 Agenda. Since then, the country has dropped year after year, now ranking to the 19th place, passed by countries like Poland and Latvia. Under this ranking, Japan is considered having major challenges on Gender Equality (SDG 5), Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12), Climate Action (SDG 13) and Biodiversity (SDGs 14 and 15).
The SDGs framework is widely recognized in Japan. Its 17 logos are used in a variety of contexts, from picture books to educate children, to commercials willing to convey the image of sustainable products and services. However, concerns exist that companies and government agencies are not giving enough support to those goals and only publicly advertise them, with limited actual contribution to the sustainable transformation of Japan.
While the UN has recognized progress of Japan in education and infrastructure, other problems seem deeply rooted into the Japanese society and economy, not addressed yet by adequate public policies or private initiatives. Gender equality is one of them: Japan placed 116th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2022 gender gap report.
Climate action is another of Japan’s main challenges when it comes to sustainable transformation. Japan aims for carbon neutrality by 2050, but this ambition still needs to be translated into concrete action plans. Studies after studies, international NGOs point out the laggard situation of Japan on decarbonization. In September 2022, a study from global climate non-profit CDP showed that Japanese companies were aligned on a 2.8°C global warming pathway – significantly above the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rising to 1.5°C by 2100. Among G7 countries, only Canada is performing worse – with a 3.1°C trajectory.
Among the issues preventing Japan to deliver a more significant contribution to the realization of the Paris Agreement, the country’s dependence to fossil fuels – in particular coal – is regularly criticised by international observers. Some foreign investors, notably from Europe, are also starting to express their concerns regarding weaknesses in the low-carbon transition plans of Japanese companies
The EBC encourages Japan to transform its wide public adoption of the SDGs framework as a communication tool, into truly transformative policies and business initiatives aligned with the spirit of the 2030 Agenda. To achieve this goal, importing and adapting methodologies, tools and technologies used or developed by European companies, as well as increased attention on regulations established by European policymakers, may be a way to drive investments in the right direction to improve Japan’s sustainability and social responsibility plans and harmonize standards between Japan and the EU as they both progress towards a green and inclusive economy.
Key issues and recommendations
As the first contribution of the Sustainability & Social Responsibility committee to the EBC White Paper, the scope is limited to an assessment of Japan’s issues, as seen by the committee members.
The committee considers that Japan should increase its efforts in priority on Gender Equality, Responsible Consumption and Production and Climate Action. Japan should also improve its overall approach to sustainability, and move from target-setting to taking action.
Mr. Stéfan Le Dû
General Manager, Global Sustainability Consulting & Business Development
Toranomon Hills Business Tower 15F
1-17-1 Toranomon, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 105-6415