Address from the Editor-in-Chief
Significant Achievements of 2018 (27th) Blue Planet Prize laureates
The 27th Blue Planet Prize (2018) was awarded to Professor Brian Walker (Australia) and Professor Malin Falkenmark (Sweden).
It is often the case that two laureates have completely different specializations, and these two award recipients are no exception. One's specialization is plant ecosystems, and the other's is hydrology and hydraulics. However, the fundamental concept underlying their research can be expressed in the question, "How do we maintain life on the earth (ecosystem)?"
Professor Brian Walker was born in the South African nation of Rhodesia (currently Zimbabwe). His major area of interest has been the way in which plants maintain their ecosystems, or resilience in plant ecosystems.
Professor Malin Falkenmark has focused on water, the most important factor in the resilience of ecological systems; and her proposals of water indicators for sustainable ecosystems and so forth have been highly regarded.
She works at the Stockholm Resilience Center, where researchers engage in extremely important studies for the survival of the planet. The Center is also well known for the "wedding cake" model of the 17 SDGs. Please click the URL below to see the model.
At the top of the four-layer wedding cake, you see "partnership," which is shown with bride and bridegroom dolls. These stand atop the ECONOMY, which is atop SOCIETY, which in turn sits atop the BIOSPHERE. The BIOSPHERE is composed of LIFE ON LAND, LIFE BELOW WATER, CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION, and CLIMATE CHANGE. To put it simply, without the maintenance of life on land, life below water, and clean water and sanitation, and prevention of climate change, neither economic activity nor society can function to provide favorable living conditions for us.
Although it is an extremely simple illustration, it shows very clearly the most important concept for the current state of the planet; in other words, the conditions for a sustainable environment.
Many events have recently occurred that appear to prove the importance of this concept.
With the unfortunate exception of the U.S. and Japan, members of the G7 Charlevoix Summit in Quebec, Canada in July of 2018 adopted the Ocean Plastics Charter. The basic concept of this charter is the same as the Wedding Cake model.
Another event that moved the world was a video showing a turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. American companies such as Starbucks and McDonald's responded immediately by announcing plans to shift from plastic to paper straws.
On the other hand, Japan seems insensitive to such global movements. While gathering information on overseas movements, I began to wonder why this was. I believe the fundamental thinking of people in Europe and the United States can be expressed by the Wedding Cake model; however, Japan does not yet seem to recognize the importance of the environment. The country seems to be lagging behind other nations around the globe. One example of this is the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Its basic principle, as described in the introduction, is climate justice. When it comes into Japan, however, the basic principle fades away. Another global movement is the achievement of SDGs by private companies. The final goal of this approach is "Transforming our world." However, I think few Japanese companies completely understand this.
Because plastics pose a risk to ecosystems, addressing their disposal is fundamental to our survival. Plastic wastes have until recently been exported to China; however, China has placed a ban on importation. Other Asian countries are moving toward banning the import of waste plastics as well. When we discuss this issue in Japan, we have difficulty reaching agreement on the level of urgency and what needs to be done to address the issue.
Why is this the case? It is obvious that the principle governing Japanese society is not justice alone. It may be because Japan has experienced the failures of justice misapplied. What, then, is the governing principle? It may be convenience or efficiency. I think the Japanese believe that human convenience is the basic principle of business. The reason that I add "human" to "convenience" is that the term "convenience" does not fit with other species.
Since the Paris Agreement was adopted by the COP21, the world has entered the era of the global environment; and business has directly connected itself to the global environment. However, such awareness has not yet spread in Japan.
Considering a wide range of conditions, the results of the 27th Blue Planet Prize should be interpreted as a sword wielded by the Selection Committee. In other words, it is a message that Japan should start giving serious consideration to the importance of environmental thought and fundamentally reconsider its thinking on the environment.
Former Vice-Rector, United Nations University
Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo