Ito International Research Center Conference
The University of Tokyo Policy Alternatives Research Institute 10th Year Anniversary Conference

Sustainability and International Relations: Toward the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals


[Date] Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 16:00-18:00
[Venue] Ito Hall, Ito International Research Center, Hongo Campus of the University of Tokyo
[Organized by] Policy Alternatives Research Institute, the University of Tokyo
[Language] English / Japanese simultaneous interpretation

Event Information


The Policy Alternatives Research Institute (PARI), which was established with the aim of formulating and offering policy proposals from the University of Tokyo, marks its 10th year anniversary in this 2018. On this occasion, the SDGs Collaborative Research Unit, which PARI established as a part of the Future Society Initiative by the University of Tokyo in December 2017, organized a symposium entitled “Sustainability and International Relations: Toward the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goals”.

Opening Remarks:

Kiichi Fujiwara, Director, Policy Alternatives Research Institute

The theme of today’s symposium is the identification of those problem which we should target in order to realize the “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, from the perspective of sustainability studies and conflict studies. The modern world faces various issues, including environmental degradation, global warming, political conflict, violence, civil wars, international conflicts, poverty, hunger, and inequality. SDGs is one of the frameworks to tackle these problems. Universities have the strength to ask questions and bring issues at hand. But we are also not good at producing solutions to those questions. On the other hand, the U.N. is facing a multiplicity of issues. We would like to make this conference an opportunity for us to think about the world from the SDGs perspective and to identify the issue we can tackle.

Keynote Speech 1:

Makoto Gonokami, President of The University of Tokyo

This year is the 140th anniversary of the University of Tokyo. We find ourselves today at a turning point in human history. The reason is technological innovation. New technologies have changed the nature of the relations between people, shaking fundamental social structures such as capitalism and democracy, which have sustained human organizations for several centuries. As a result, the boundaries of our society are disappearing. The expression “post- truth”, which we often hear recently, is one of the most iconic examples. The emotional response caused by the information divide has surged aa a powerful movement. We need to lead the society in a better direction by pushing back this movement and controlling new technologies. In order to that, we need to utilize various knowledge and human resources capable of bringing cooperation among various people beyond geography, nation, race, sex, and age.

Professor Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, is convinced that we are at the beginning of “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. He expects that new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and robots will integrate cyber and physical system in an extreme fashion, change the structure of society and industry, and create new values. Regarding to the new values that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will provided to the society, Japan’s “Growth Strategy Council-Investing for the Future” has launched its own discussion. The council expects that the utilization of new technologies will bring about opportunities to solve difficult social issues at once, and lead the society in a good direction. For example, new technology will be able to narrow the gap between urban and rural areas, and realize sustainable development of the whole society while respecting the individual. It can be said that we are at the beginning of a new stage of social evolution. The Japanese government regards the first stage of hunting society as “Society 1.0”, agrarian society as “Society 2.0”, industrial society as “Society 3.0”, information society as “Society 4.0”, and future society as “Society 5.0”. SDGs show the goals and action agenda to make Society 5.0 a better one. To achieve these goals, appropriate social design combining innovation, technology, social system, and economical system. From this perspective, the role of universities with their accumulated knowledge from a variety of fields is expected to be quite a prominent one.

The University of Tokyo was named as Certified National University Corporation by the Minister of MEXT, on June 30th, 2017. This system aims to improve the standard of education and learning, and creation of innovation. Seizing the chance of this designation, the University of Tokyo elaborated its plan to prompt effective collaboration and to contribute to the future of humanity and the planet, based on the University’s mission of serving the global public. We established the Future Society Initiative (FSI) to realize cooperation beyond expertise utilizing SDGs as a common goal of UTokyo. FSI researches SDGs-oriented projects in UTokyo and discloses information on its website

Our purpose is realizing SDGs and making Society 5.0 as a better society. For that, it is necessary to prompt participation of a variety of sectors across industry, academia, as well as the public and private sectors, at home and abroad. Also, it is necessary to create a vision of economic and social systems and to design a human resource education system on the basis of the clear image of a new society, where cyber and physical systems are highly integrated, and technological innovation, social systems, and economical systems are combined. The University of Tokyo would like to contribute to make the world and human society better, utilizing its accumulation of knowledge and human resources, and cooperating with people from various sectors at home and abroad.

Keynote Speech2

David M. Malone, Rector, United Nations University

The word “sustainability” implies a sense of “durability”. One thing we have become less certain about is how durable the natural resources of the Earth are going to be if we want to attain high levels of economic development. This concern is relatively new. The first U.N. significant meeting on global environment occurred in 1971. Since then, quite a large number of international agreements have been signed on specific areas relevant to sustainability and also some more general agreements, of which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are amongst the most recent.

In the year 2000, the U.N. adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Those goals were elementary. To give you an idea on education, the target starting from the year 2000 is simply universal primary education. Back then, many children around the world did not have access to universal primary education. That goal was achieved relatively easily within the next fifteen years. Today, the goal on sustainable development relevant to education is much more ambitious. It speaks about high quality education. We have risen the bar of ambition in terms of what our society wants to achieve.

The other big shift between MDGs and SDGs is visible in goal 16 of SDGs, which relates to peace and justice. The poorest countries in the world are generally those which have experienced violent conflict in most recent years. To sustain economic activity and particularly to protect environmental sustainability is extremely difficult in a situation of violent conflict. Justice as well has much to do with sustainability. Because without justice, instability will rise in any society. Therefore some very significant change has occurred in global thinking in just fifteen years between 2000 and 2015.

Japan can share many experiences with the rest of the world. Fukushima created a very severe setback in this country. The nuclear energy infrastructure of the country had to be shut down for several years. Japan is coping with that challenge very methodically and with a very scientific approach.

The University of Tokyo is presenting an ambitious plan towards multidisciplinarity. Fragmentation of higher education is a big problem. Walls between disciplines in the academic world is big issue. I want to salute the president’s new vision. I am confident it will benefit students, faculties, and Japanese higher education.

Panel Discussion

Agenda Setting: Kiichi Fujiwara, Director, Policy Alternatives Research Institute

When we discuss about SDGs in this panel, at least two terrains should be covered. On the one hand, the need to provide energy without exhausting natural resources or enhancing global warming. This is related to technological innovation and changing the form of social economy that will lead us toward sustainable development.

On the other hand, peace and justice for environmental conflict should be covered. This is in many ways traditional issues about geopolitics, international relations, and conflict. Nevertheless one should always be aware of the link between the two. Climate change, whether global warming or other related phenomena, will have significant effects on developing countries, especially when it challenges political governance.

G. John Ikenberry, Professor, Princeton University

It is clear that Climate change is an increasingly important factor to think about the contemporary major of shift in studies and problems of International Relations and world politics. Carbon emissions, rising surface temperature, ocean acidification, tropical storms, and last population growth are creating this extraordinary human impact on nature. We know that it will have a huge impact on questions of war and peace, International Relations, global governance, and justice issues, multiple indirect and direct impacts. I can suggest four types of impacts.

First, natural disasters are more frequent and more extreme, such as hurricanes, tropical storms, typhoons. The impact will be the indirect and direct displacement of people. For example, Puerto Rico has been set back by decades by a tropical storm that has revealed a fundamental inability of the society of organizing itself to respond to this kind of crises. We need to think what if it happens on global scale.

Second, rising sea levels. A large portion of the land will disappear and hundreds of millions will be displaced if the sea level rises by six to eleven feet. Scientists tell us that certain places are already disappearing. Bangladesh and Miami Beach in Florida are going to be not sustainable for habitation in this kind of change. An example of this crisis might be Kiribati, where an entire people needs to prepare to leave its islands.

Third, agricultural production and food security are facing a crisis. Food production in traditional agriculture becomes unstable and it becomes doubtful whether we can produce the crops needed from a population which will continue to grow throughout this century.

Overall, climate change is generating stress on social institutions. One aspect is the shift in migration patterns. Refugees are created by this kind of problem. It is expected that 200 million people will migrate due to environmental reasons by 2050.

There are also differences between rich and poor countries. Not everybody is going to experience the same level of harm with same intensity. Rich countries would be able to manage and become one “giant Netherlands”. Poor countries will be more affected and struggle to protect their citizens. Many poor countries will see population increases, and also growing scarcity of arable land and water.

The questions we ask from the area of International Relations are focused on what we should do to enhance the prospects for stable peace amongst world populations. We already know about the connections through which global warming directly and indirectly creates the conditions for greater conflict within a society. Syria is often pointed out as this sort of twenty first century’s kind of conflict. The Syrian civil war had many causes, among them certainly the 2007-2010 drought which led 1.4 million Syrians to abandon their farms and move to troubled cities, creating new tensions between different ethnic and religious group, and trigger a civil war. This in turn created further effects with hundreds of thousands of refugees putting pressure on European countries and generating new political issues.

The big question is how the world’s system of governance can approach these issues. The model of cooperation on carbon emission reduction and clean energy is moving from the "regulatory" approach of the Kyoto Protocol to the "catalytic" approach of the Paris Agreement. It is a so called "pledge, review, and ratchet approach" whereby with small and graduate steps, by engaging cities, local governments, businesses, and NGOs, the world can move to greater ones later on. The first question is whether a "catalytic" approach can realize decentralized, voluntary, interactive, built on solutions, creating normative pressures on people and groups at the level of cities and regional governments, business, NGOs. Secondly, can countries agree not only on reducing their impact and slow down climate change, but on "adaptation" and "recovery" measures? How can the global community grow the capacity to deal with these problems? And finally, what if China, India, U.S., Japan, Europe competed to lead the world in clean energy R&D, investments, aid, and so no? I am optimistic with reference to the question of whether "leadership" on climate change can become a source of soft power.

Hiroko Kuniya, Journalist

Japan has undergone a drastic and painful transition. Social norms have disappeared. Although we are trying to analyze the background of the problem and to solve it, we have witnessed a situation where reasonably visible solutions can cause more serious problems in the next few years. I am thinking about what was overlooked by us.

When I learned that SDGs explicitly claim to integrate and balance economic, social and environmental purposes, and to secure "interlinkages" among them to pursue a coherent agenda, it was an eye opening moment. A global promise is "leave no one behind". When I attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos, I felt there was a very strong growing consensus that the issue of environment and sustainability needs to be pushed to the top of the corporate agenda. The shift in investments is generating a significant change in the way corporations are looking at climate issues. Institutional investment funds which observe environmental and social standards tend to outperform their competitors.

At the SDGs conference organized by the WEF, the organizers said "this is a meeting to bring together stakeholders to start the process of creating solutions". I think global corporations are feeling the pressure that they have to become the force for change. Being part of the solution is imperative for business survival. Global corporations are beginning to build partnerships across industries to tackle difficult issues in a systemic way.

But the same mood is not prevailing in Japanese corporate world. Many Japanese companies see SDGs as a tool to improve their corporate image. Projects are pursued by the CSR division, and this indicates that it has not become a focal business project. There is also a misconception that SDGs are an extension of MDGs. The message from SDGs is "if you are doing anything to harm others you must change your way". This message has not penetrated enough in the corporate world. Overseas the departure from fossil fuel is accelerating, but the fact that the same trends are not occurring here indicates that there is a tendency to pick and choose. Japanese corporations are not fundamentally ready to be responsible for the global commons.

Local governments, that have been trying to find solutions to tackle declining population, aging community, are now eager to utilize the SDGs goals to focus on their issue, improve their sustainability and image to attract people and investments.

What we are witnessing is the use of SDGs to establish priorities that help combat the tendency for short-termism, break institutional silos, to move towards more innovative, multi-stakeholder, goal-setting forms of governance. SDGs enhance our ability to look at the root causes of the issues and will look at the most vulnerable. The painful effects of climate change, persisting conflicts, the issue of sustainability of communities is globally widespread. I wonder how local governments in Japan trying to improve the sustainability could become hints, and even model cases for the international community to prevent conflicts and improve security in the long term.

I hope from the bottom of my heart, that everybody learns about SDGs and social dialog will begin, so that good solutions, good ideas, and good stakeholder collaborations will spread.

Taikan Oki, Senior Vice-Rector, United Nations University

I would like to show the data from 1850 to around 2000. Mankind has been meeting with catastrophic changes. For example, population figures, fertilizer consumption, large dams, water use, paper production, transportation and telecommunications…, everything has been growing in an explosive fashion. Of course these developments have contributed to enrich us all. But on the other hand, we have damage, for example: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane emissions, stratospheric ozone depletion, and rising surface temperatures. Ocean acidification, coral whitening is occurring. The rise in the seawater temperature is also great. Fish catch, shrimp aquaculture, nitrogen inflow into the ocean, loss of tropical rainforest all increased, as well as artificial land use and degradation of the terrestrial ecosystem. We have been living in so called "lost two decades".

To assess the progress of SDGs, the U.N. formulates a report every four years. There are also annual reports. According to these reports, the population living below 1.9 U.S. dollars a day has been greatly reduced between 1999 and 2013. This is in the period of MDGs. And the proportion of undernourished people has been great reduction if we compare 2000 and 2016. The proportion of under-five year old mortality rate has been reduced from 60 to 40 out of 1000, during the MDGs period. However, with regard to the proportion of school-aged children out of school, many girls still cannot access higher education. With regards to the proportion of the population with access to electricity, while over 95% of people in urban areas have access, many in rural areas are not able to use electricity. But accessibility has been increased from 60% to 70%. The number of people covered by a mobile network, with more sophisticated technology, is more than six billion people. The access to information is very important for all people. The proportion of urban population is also rising.

On the other hand, on the point of development, stagnation is a big concern. For example, growth in labor productivity is not rising in comparison to the past. Even though renewable energy is increasing, energy consumption itself is also increasing. GDP growth, investment in research and development (R&D), and access to electricity should be increased. Another problem is the increase of obesity in infants. As for the food problem, it is not the shortage of absolute volume of food. That was a problem of the past. But still people do not have access to food. And another thing, the material foot print is increasing and rising. Because of population growing, the damage of natural disaster is increasing, too.

Although we found improvement on some points, it is insufficient. We need to do more to improve this situation. We need to think about the better way of well-being and happiness. If you are happy in Japan, you need to expand it to the world. In 2015, the same year of SDGs, the Paris Agreement decided that we should not use fossil fuels even though they have not been depleted yet. Therefore, we are finding ways to support the society with renewable energy. That is the direction SDGs indicate.

The global economy has a very large dimension, too. There is no one country or one company which will be able to profit exclusively from these changes. In the global economy, everyone is interrelated with each other. So the growth of people who is still behind will be a win-win for all of us in the world. That is a picture we have in mind. I would like to emphasize, when we think about sustainable development, all three of protection of environment, social justice, and poverty reduction are important. Even though it is not legally binding, it is already becoming soft law. People all over the world are demanding SDGs. Even China is now considering about human rights and environment. Businesses cannot stand alone without considering SDGs. Otherwise they need to leave out from the global economy. So we need to work together for a better society and better world. For that purpose, SDGs had been adopted.

Questions and Answers

Panelists and participants exchanged their opinion on following four points.

The role of innovation of technology to realize SDGs

In Tanzania, there is a good example of the solar lantern, made by combining storage battery and solar panel, providing electricity to areas without electrification. Solar lanterns enable people to work or study during night time and contributed to activate the local economy and improve the quality of life. This a good example of technological innovation triggering social development. In the case of China and India, development of water supply systems was accompanied by economic development. In the frame of SDGs as well, we need to induce assistance to businesses to be able to develop technology and human resources. That would bring about regional development.

When various international goals are advocated, the usual human reaction is "although it is important, it also look impossible to implement". We need to change that. People think sustainable development is impossible in developing countries, especially conflict-affected countries such as Congo, Somalia and South Sudan, which do not have governance capability. However, there are many problems we can break through with technological innovation.

The action of local governments: Case of Japan and the U.S.

In Japan, local governments are working towards the achievement of SDGs. Many prefectures, cities, and towns are making declarations concerning SDGs. To create visions, various citizens, NPOs, companies and local governments are organizing workshops one after another. When they have SDGs as a goal, they need to connect with various sectors and business sectors, who will want to participate because of branding considerations. For example, Shimokawa-cho, a small town of Hokkaido, received the Prime Minister Prize at the Japan SDGs Award. It is necessary for each country, local government, or local community, to create its own tailor-made model.

While the U.S. government pulled out from the Paris Agreement, there are various activities in states and local communities. Various actors are taking collective actions with various roles. This is the "catastrophic approach". For example, the state of California is ahead of the most of the world on clean energy. The regulatory standard of California can become national standard. This kind of ripple effects shows that state and communities can take leadership, without waiting for the president or prime minister to do so.

Motivation of companies: Information platform and making indicator

It is obvious that in our industrial society, we cannot continue energy consumption in unsustainable way. We need to utilize the economic incentive of companies with exemplary solutions. For example, in the solar energy market, companies are trying to find profits by improving their clean technology. From such perspective, we can find a way to create an economic system which based on clean energy. It is desirable to move the whole society through the private sector towards the introduction of new technology, and integrating it into economic system in long term.

Although there are Japanese companies which understand the idea of "Creating Shared Value or CSV", the reality is that action is not following up. Like the ESG investment (investing in the companies which consider environment, social, and governance), it would be useful to create rankings of companies which are developing technologies related to SDGs. Also, it would be useful to create database platforms able to share information about actions of local governments, companies, NPOs, and universities. Although ESG investment is limited at around 25% of all investment in the global market, and only 3.4% in Japan, it has increased to 50% in the European market. It would be interesting if "SDGs investments" along with 232 indicators of SDGs could be born. At the conference of the World Economic Forum, eleven global companies declared that they will change all plastic products to recyclable or biodegradable by 2025. Companies are trying to utilize their technologies to address the marine pollution issue caused by plastic. It is a great development.

The role of Universities

Human beings act for their own interest. However, if everybody acts only for his own interest, a situation where everybody loses may happen. To overcome that, it is necessary to understand that such situation is not desirable for everyone. For example, international conservation of international rivers, which flow across many different countries, was the starting point of international cooperation. Everybody has to cooperate because everybody would lose if do not cooperate. It is an obvious outcome that everybody will win by cooperating.

Universities now have a responsibility not only to analyze but to present to the people the possibility of solutions. In the modern society and community, advocating SDGs as the goal for universities is to show their relevance and responsibility towards the society. Through technological innovation, we can create a new society which does not ignore or accelerate conflicts but realize social justice.

Our center, the Policy Alternatives Research Institution was created to show new alternatives to the society. It is one of the responsibilities that all universities should take.