Interviews & Articles

(July 5, 2017)

July 5, 2017

provisional translation

I am visiting Hamburg to attend the G20 Summit as my second visit to Germany this year, having attended CeBIT in March. Being a Partner Country for CeBIT, Japan had its biggest pavilion ever, featuring 118 Japanese companies. I hope you all remember.

Germany and Japan share basic values such as freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Further, both countries consider diligence as a virtue, attach importance to manufacturing industries, have industries that are growing worldwide through technological strength and boast strong small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In Japan we all know that German products have an established reputation. To name one example, German brands account for 30% of the cars in such central Tokyo wards as Minato Ward, where incomes are high, and Shibuya Ward, where I have a private residence. Going beyond consumers, every year, there are Japanese SMEs that participate in the Hannover Messe trade fair seeking German partners.

Sustainability is the theme of this year’s G20 Summit. The international community is strengthening initiatives to achieve the shared target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To this end, Japan last year launched its whole-of-government SDGs Promotion Headquarters, which I chair.

To bring about global sustainability, I believe the environment, health and Africa stand as core pillars. The keys to the solution are technological prowess and innovation, which are the very strengths of both Japan and Germany. This is exactly why I wish to have deepened collaboration between the two countries.

The Earth, on which the survival of humankind relies, has long been under multiple threats from global warming. As climate change affects all people the world over, all of us living now bear the responsibility of tackling it for the sake of future generations. The world must unite as one and take actions urgently. World leaders gathered in Paris even immediately after the terror attacks to adopt the Paris Agreement because we all shared this view.

Half a century ago, Japan’s rapid economic growth resulted in environmental pollution. Fundamental to overcoming this situation has been the determination of all the Japanese people to restore our clean air and water and to protect nature by making full use of our technology and social investment. Further, this technology and investment later evolved into Japan’s new engine for growth.

Amidst a series of oil shocks, price hikes for natural resources economically justified the investment in energy conservation. Further, developing energy-efficient cars and increasing factory productivity boosted the competitiveness of Japanese products. For instance, the thermal efficiency of the steel manufacturing plant where I myself worked at when I was in my 20s became one of the highest in the world.

Now, we are eager to fully utilize Japan’s technological strength to protect the Earth for future generations. We have committed to reducing Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by fiscal year 2030 even though we already have lower emissions than other countries. There are a variety of our technologies that we wish to be utilized by many around the world by putting them into practical application, aiming at a hydrogen-based society. They range from fuel-cell vehicles and safe transport systems for liquid hydrogen to power supplies that combine solar panels and LEDs.

Turning our eyes to developing countries, Japan contributes to the introduction of infrastructure that is well tailored to each country’s conditions. In Kenya, we assist with the supply of electricity using geothermal turbines, while in Papua New Guinea, we provide assistance in training human resources to manage forestry resources and greenhouse gas emissions systems. Further, under the Paris Agreement, we have promoted low-carbon technologies in developing countries by expanding the number of partner countries in the Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM) to 17. Examples include installing high efficient boilers in Mongolia and solar energy systems in Palau. While achieving such tangible results, I will keep my promise given at COP21 to realize climate change programs in developing countries worth 1.3 trillion yen by 2020.

To achieve sustainability, people need to stay healthy to come into their own. Health is the key to a society that respects human life and leaves no one behind. Following the major Ebola virus disease outbreak in 2014, my focus was not limited only to fighting against infectious diseases. Instead, it goes beyond that, to the reinforcement of health as a “system,” including elements such as leadership and governance as preventive measures, health information, health workers, medicines and medical devices, and to strengthening responses to public health emergencies.

At the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in May 2016, in their statement the “G7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health,” the G7 leaders committed to concrete actions on major themes, such as universal health coverage (UHC) and strengthening the international community’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies including infectious diseases.

When I visited Kenya to co-host the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) in August 2016, I proposed “the promotion of resilient health systems” as a priority agenda item. Accordingly, we have steadily implemented assistance in Africa, including strengthening preparation and response measures against public health emergencies and strengthening UHC promotion. In Ghana, for example, Japan promotes the health of the local people by combining the development and provision of facilities and equipment together with the dispatch of specialists. In one case, community health nurses have been stationed in rural districts lacking access to medical services.

Improving health is equally crucial for developed countries where the population ages relentlessly. It holds the key to sustainability. In that regard, we have embarked on applying innovation in digital technology to the vast quantity of health data so as to develop systems that address health management, prevention, treatment and nursing care in an integrated manner. This not only helps in maintaining people’s good health but also provides a solution to the growing medical expenses stemming from the aging society. Through these efforts, Japan is determined to lead the way as a trail-blazer in solving the challenges of aging that both developed and emerging economies face.

It’s no exaggeration to say that global sustainability cannot be achieved without sustainability in Africa, the continent with the most potential in the world. Meanwhile, lack of water and food, underinvestment in infrastructure, lagging education and training, and political instability have all impeded the opening up of Africa’s enormous potential.

We, both the government and private sector entities, are fully convinced of the importance of African sustainability and thus have continuously contributed to Africa’s development. Back in 1993, Japan launched the TICAD process with the participation of African leaders, and more than 200 companies from Japan joined its sixth meeting, held in Kenya last year. Japan’s motto is “investing from Japan into Africa, furnishing African people with technologies and skills, sharing with them production methods and work discipline, and with them, letting African people feel the economic self-reliance and the significance of working, and enabling them to have their own industries.” Enhancing African indigenous industries will also enable young Africans to remain in their own countries.

Today, the manufacturing industry is burgeoning in Africa, and the Japanese term “kaizen,” the process of workers onsite continuously brainstorming ideas to improve productivity, is spreading. We are willing to accept more students and trainees from Africa on an ongoing basis. Further collaboration is on the way in the agricultural sector, in which African leaders asked for more support, in every phase such as infrastructure, technology and human resources.

Lastly, I have a favor to ask our German friends. Please come and visit Japan! Last year, of the 24 million foreign visitors to Japan, only 180,000, or 0.8%, were from Germany. Let me say again, there are many Japanese fans of Germany in areas ranging widely from business, academia, the arts and sports to tourism.

This weekend, the G20 leaders will gather to solve the challenges confronting the world under the leadership of Chancellor Merkel. I look forward to having frank, open-minded and rich discussions there.

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