Sustainable Development In Japan

free essayThe Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were created to eliminate acute poverty in 2000-2015. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), consisting of seventeen goals, replaced the MDGs in 2016. Japan, through its policies and reforms, is on the road that leads to sustainable development aimed at eradication of poverty, social disparity, reduction of environmental effects caused by food production, promotion of healthy lifestyles, equal access to education and training, promotion of women’s leadership and empowerment, and conservation and protection of water resources and biodiversity. The Japanese perspective of sustainable development is the development of human resources, and the concept of sustainability relates to the global approach.

Japan, in fact, is determined to achieve the SDGs, and it has implemented several strategies and policies to achieve sustainable development. Undoubtedly, sustainable development of Japan is inconsistent with the SDGs, but some goals may not have long-term strategies toward 2030, and the nation has yet to resolve many significant SDS-related problems. There are various challenges and critical issues in sustainable development, which Japan needs to address in coming years. Since Japan has global goals and targets, it should define its actions to achieve sustainable development and ways to fulfill them.

In order to achieve sustainable development, the Japanese government has implemented several strategies, policies, and programs, which help in promoting growth and improvement in the following significant fields. The government aims to attain SDGs by 2030.

Eradication of Poverty and Social Disparity

Extreme poverty is not the major social problem in Japan but “relative poverty” has become one of the most critical problems in the last few years. The country’s relative poverty rate, a part of the population with net income below a defined level, was 16.2 percent in 2012 and is likely to rise in years to come (Ballas et al., 2014). One of the factors resulting in such a widening income gap in the society is due to changes in employment patterns. A significant proportion of the population who has irregular employment and low-paying jobs has been increasing in the last five years. It has risen by 36.9 percent in 2014 (MHLW, 2016). Besides, the number of women workers with irregular employment and low-salary jobs is remarkably higher than that of male workers. The population of Japan continues to decline and is expected to fall by nearly 10.5 million from 2011 to 2030 (Yamagata, 2016).The prime factor causing the population decline is its decreasing birth rate and aging population.

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In 2009, the Japanese government declared the strategy entitled “New Zero Wait List,” announcing that it would offer sufficient childcare services so that there is no waiting list for maternity services, and those women who wanted to work after the childbirth could continue their respective jobs (Kawabata, 2012a). This strategy also aims to eliminate the social disparity that is rising in different segments of societies. Women have started availing themselves of childcare services, and the number of children under five years, who can benefit from these services, is expected to increase the current level of 21 percent to 38.7 percent, whereas childcare facilities for children between six to nine years are expected to increase from 20 to 60.5 percent by 2019 (Yamagata, 2016).

Child poverty continues to worsen. It is a major concern for the government because it can deprive children of availing the opportunity for equal education and subsequently push them in a cycle of poverty. The nation’s “Compulsory Education Act” was enforced in 2014 to eradicate child poverty (Yamagata, 2016). Its purpose is to encourage equal opportunities for all children in the field of education irrespective of their financial status.

Reduction of Environmental Impacts Caused by Food Production

Japanese farmers have a tendency to overuse fertilizers; thus, excessive nutrients are left in fields. It is not desirable in respect of economic efficiency as well as in terms of environment protection. The reason is it results in nitrous oxide emissions and water pollution, which contribute to global warming. In this respect, eco-friendly farming has been actively encouraged in Japan (Dyck and Artia, 2014). One such attempt is the implementation of the “eco-farmer” certification system that rewards environmentally friendly farmers who contribute to reduce the usage of synthetic fertilizers and preserve the quality of farmland (Beddington et al., 2012).

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Organic farming is also continuously encouraged from 2008 onwards. Presently, only 0.5 percent of Japan’s agriculture land is utilized for organic farming, and the government has established the goal to increase this to 1.25 percent by 2018 (Dyck and Arita, 2014). In the context of food productivity, “Food Supply Capacity” is the benchmark suggested by the MAAF, which defines the nation’s potential production of food crops. This indicator shows that Japan’s self-sufficiency rate has not shown any remarkable improvement in recent years and the production of wheat, rice, and soybeans, which are largely consumed by Japanese, continues to decrease. Therefore, the government has announced its strategy, namely “Basic Programs for Food Crops,” that  aims to realize self-sufficiency in food production nearly by 55 percent on the basis of calorie intake and 71 percent for food production by 2020 (MAFF, 2015). Japan highly depends on imports of food products, and unforeseen conditions can cut off or reduce imports. Hence, in 2014, The Ministry of Agriculture announced “Food Self-Sufficiency Strategy,” which set the target to realize food self-sufficiency up to 55 percent by 2020 (MAFF, 2015).

Health – Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases

Though Japan’s HLE is the highest all over the world, the government is dedicated to improve the health of people through its healthcare strategies. Healthy life expectancy means the number of years a person can live in a healthy nation. The average life expectancy of the Japanese is 83 years (Abe, 2015b). Extending HLE is necessary for the entire society because it largely reduces social welfare costs that include medical and elderly healthcare.

Japan has shown a steady increase in social welfare spending over the years, and it is expected to rise in order to accommodate the aging population. Presently nearly 45 percent of social welfare costs are covered by the national debt, hence, increasing the burden on next generations (Abe, 2013a). In this respect, the government approved “Japan Revitalization Strategy” in 2013, underlining the need to decrease social welfare costs through adopting measures such as encouraging citizens for regular medical check-ups that would extend HLE by one year.

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The Ministry of Health also introduced a strategy, namely “Health Japan,” in 2012 offering healthcare insurance and medical reimbursement plans to its citizens (Eguchi et al., 2017). The government also instructed public and private sectors to include these plans so that their employees can avail healthcare facilities. There were nearly 17,000 HIV-infected people and 7,800 AIDS patients at the end of 2014. This number continues to increase with more than 1100 new HIV and approximately 450 new AIDS cases are reported every year (MHLW, 2016). The government must make war-footing efforts to prevent the spread of these diseases and allocate more funds for the control of infectious diseases.

Education – Equal Access to Quality Education and Vocational Training

Education develops skills and talent in individuals that are necessary for achieving a sustainable society. Therefore, it is utmost important to provide equal opportunities for education and vocational training for all citizens irrespective of age, gender, disability, and financial position. However, the widening of socioeconomic disparities in Japan has established a social gap in acquiring quality education.

One of the factors responsible for such a situation is the nation’s low-level of government spending on education and vocational training. Japan’s public expenditure on education was approximately 3.9 percent of GDP in 2012 (MEXT, 2013). This situation incurred extreme financial pressure on students and their families. For example, 60 percent of spending on pre-school education was paid by families themselves (Kawabata, 2014b). The rising cost of education borne by individuals is an obstacle for equal educational facilities for all, specifically, when it concerns higher education which is a prerogative of people with a higher income. Besides, it is one of the prime factors resulting in a decline in birth rate in Japan. In 2013, this situation made the Ministry of Education formulate a basic education policy aimed at offering free education to school children less than ten years of age.

Currently, free high school education is available only at state schools, and those households with annual income of less than JPY nine million continue to suffer due to the heavy financial stress of school fees to allow their children to learn in private schools. The Japanese government should introduce free education at private schools and enhance government expenditure on higher education from the present level of 0.5 percent of GDP to 1.5 percent, which is the average figure of developed economies (MEXT, 2013).

Gender – Inequality in Employment Opportunities and Wages

Sustainable development depends on the participation of each individual in society and is utmost important to organize all human resources. It is the case in Japan, where the population is likely to decline in the coming years. From this perspective, demographic changes will produce significant challenges to the nation.

Nonetheless, Japan demonstrates the highest labor market gender gaps among the developed countries. According to data published by the GEBCO (2015) in 2014, for men, the labor contribution rate was 70.5 percent and 49.1 percent for women. More than 29 million women are hence not in labor force, which is nearly 65 percent of the non-working population of the nation (GEBCO, 2015).

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The nation’s “ Revitalization Strategy,” approved by the government in 2013, established the target of enhancing women employment rate , 22-45 years of age, from 67 percent to 72.5 percent in 2012, and increase the ratio of women workers returning to work after the birth of their child from 37 percent to 55 percent by 2020 (D`Ambrogio, 2017). In 2014, the Cabinet declared “Second Basic Plan” for gender equality with the aim of increasing women’s share in leadership positions to at least 32 percent by 2020 in all segments of society (D`Ambrogio, 2017). Various measures are being initiated at the government level to enhance women’s involvement in decision and policy making processes in most of private and public sector organizations. Also, they are encouraged to actively participate in political activities.

Water Related Risks

According to figures published by the Disaster and Fire Management Agency, more than 19,000 citizens lost their lives in 2000-2014 due to natural disasters, and nearly 4,000 people were reported missing (Midori, 2015). The financial loss caused by natural calamities was calculated as JPY 14 trillion (Midori, 2015). Natural disasters like tsunamis, storms, floods, surges, landslides, and heavy rains are extremely significant for the Japanese government. So far, Japan has not undertaken necessary precautionary measures to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters and should establish ambitious targets and policies to decrease the number of sufferers from 2020 to 2030, provided that ratio of victims from 2000 to 2015 was much higher than in other advanced countries (MOE, 2016).

More than 96.9 percent of the nation’s population has an access to safe drinking water at a reasonable price (Takao, 2012). However, natural catastrophes in the last few years, including heavy rains, typhoons, as well as the Great East Japan Earthquake have damaged the water supply infrastructure, creating water shortages for longer periods in disaster-affected regions (Takao, 2012). Such incidents highlight Japan’s crucial need, from the viewpoint of sustainability, to be thoroughly prepared for handling emergency situations so as to maintain water supplies in all regions.

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Many watershed regions in the country face challenges in terms of proper management and maintenance of forests due to aging and declining population. If this situation continues, the forests with water-holding soil could decline to 55 percent in the next five years (Baker, 2011). The Forest Improvement and Conservation Plan implemented in 2014 established the target to enhance the ratio of such forests from 73 percent to 79 percent (MOE, 2016). The Conservation and Protection of Forests Act also guides the people to conserve the forests and abstain from illegal activities of deforestation. In order to attain sustainable development, Japan should put more efforts to further improve the figures by 2030.

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, the SDGs have encouraged Japan to achieve sustainable development and, to a large extent, the nation is successful in attaining those goals with its effective and efficient strategies and policies. It has received partial success in eliminating poverty and social disparity but socio-economic gaps continue to create concerns in the implementation of policies. The rise in HIV and AIDS cases continues to be a major problem for the country. Therefore, the government must take precautionary measures to prevent the spread of these diseases and increase public expenditure for the control of infectious diseases. The nation continues to face natural disasters that affect its food production and largely depends on food imports, whereas it presently throws away 15 million tons of food and drinks, out of which 6 to 8 million tons of food are edible. Japan should reduce food loss by more than half of the current amount. Gender equality is another major obstacle in terms of sustainable development of the country. Therefore, Japan should introduce more laws that empower women and increase their participation in the society. Overall, Japan`s sustainable development is steadily increasing, but it still needs better education, water resource management, and gender equality. Hence, the government should formulate those sustainable development strategies that are parallel to advanced countries, which would benefit the country.