Japanese media covers the SDGs extensively. Here's how and why other outlets should follow. Image: UN/Flickr
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- News media can play an important role in raising awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- 84 news organizations from around the world – including 11 from Japan – joined the SDG Media Compact.
- Japanese media sets the example in covering environmental topics and educating the public about the need for action on climate change.
In Japan, it's not uncommon to see people wearing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lapel pins.
The popularity of the pin may be because Japanese media covers the SDGs – and the growing problem of climate change – extensively.
What role can and should the news media play in raising awareness of the goals and the need for climate action?
The BBC recently issued internal guidance on how to report on climate change, which links to every goal, while The Guardian updated its style guide in 2019 to introduce terms like “climate emergency” and “climate crisis” though the use of “climate change” remains accepted, too.
In September 2018, the United Nations organized the SDG Media Compact, currently consisting of 85 major news media companies around the world, to propel the media toward more active SDGs-related coverage.
What’s intriguing is the way the organization is structured: 20 outlets from Europe, 14 from the Americas, 15 from Africa, nine from the Middle East and 27 from Asia, with 12 from Japan, including The Asahi Shimbun.
Why does Japan have the biggest representation? Japan, which relies almost totally on imports for its consumption of oil, went through a major economic crisis during the so-called “oil shock” of the 1970s. Since then, Japan’s government, business community and people have put a focus on making energy-saving efforts. However, in 2011, Japan experienced tsunami-induced reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, when eastern Japan was rocked by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake. Most of the 54 nuclear reactors in operation at the time of the disaster were shut down, which has led to an increase in the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.
According to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, nuclear power generation, which accounted for about 30% of the nation’s energy supply before the 2011 disaster, represented only 3% of the supply in 2017. Natural gas (39%) and coal (35%) account for more than 70% of the supply. In contrast, renewable energy represents only 16%.
A report by the Brookings Institution, a think-tank based in Washington D.C., kept track of SDGs-related coverage of the media between 2000 and 2016. They uncovered an interesting phenomenon: coverage of SDG issues by the US and European media has increased in years with UN conferences and events and decreased in years without such events. Meanwhile, media coverage has been continuously visible in developing nations such as India, South Africa and Nigeria.
The reason SDGs-related coverage remains in abundance in Japan and developing nations is clear: they view a plethora of global issues as “pressing crises” particularly affecting them.
The Asahi Shimbun has published many in-depth stories, some with quality multimedia content, on a wide range of SDG-related topics, from a local town endeavoring to develop a circular economy through forest management efforts, to the reality of Japan’s “mass-waste society” in which 6.5 million tons of food and 1 billion items of clothing are wasted every year. We have also interviewed key people, including Amina Mohammed, the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, who played a leading role in the drafting of the SDGs.
In addition to quality journalism, the Japanese media also plays a meaningful role in education.
Since March 2018, The Asahi has organized workshops at junior and senior high schools, universities, special needs institutes, Japanese-language schools and preparatory classrooms. In the workshops, participants were led to read various newspaper articles related to such issues as global warming and food loss, while keeping the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in mind. They were asked to point out articles that captured their attention and write their own comments. Even students who have never heard the phrase the Sustainable Development Goals or the abbreviation “SDGs” thought about the global issues from the perspective of their own everyday lives.
Another key role the media can play is to help forge connections between experts, civil society and readers. Since 2008, The Asahi has organized a number of symposiums every year on the themes of the global environment and the SDGs. In 2019, we organized discussion forums in which Japanese experts exchanged views with Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a leading environment researcher and advocate of the planetary boundaries concept, which tat has had a major impact on the tenets behind SDGs. In addition, we have been involved in discussions with Jeffrey Sachs, a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, as well as other academics.
What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics Games will serve as a prime occasion for people from all over the world to develop more interest in the SDGs – a rare opportunity for Japanese media to reach people from all over the world and show off efforts concerning SDGs. For us, organizing SDGs-related events, this time with the cooperation with the United Nations, is a clear priority.
The news media can be a meaningful stakeholder in the push for the SDGs. With the target year of 2030 for the goals not too far in the future, the media can intensify the focus.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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