The EU’s view is that we should not avert our gaze from the ever-worsening climate and ecological crisis, and that is vital that any urgent economic actions link the coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis. Certainly, these two crises do have much in common. For example, their underlying cause was the collapse of human society’s symbiotic relationship with the natural world resulting from the excessive pursuit of economic growth. Another similarity is that the both crises caused disproportionate harm to the more vulnerable segments of society. Further, in both cases, scientific approaches will be needed to find solutions, neither of these crises can be solved by the solo efforts of individual countries, making international cooperation essential. The list goes on. The coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis are like concentric circles, emanating from the same central point. Then there are the financial aspects. Massive sums of money will be required to address both crises. No country in the world today has the fiscal wherewithal to fight a two-front war against two crises at the same time. To ensure that they are not seen as trade-offs against the other and to avoid the climate crisis being pushed to one side, a green recovery, in which both crises are addressed at the same time from the same angles, is, it goes without saying, a more rational approach.
It was against this backdrop that the climate and environment ministers of 17 members of the EU*, including Germany and France, put forward to the European Commission (EC) a policy proposal urging that the European Green Deal being promoted by the EU be made a central part of recovery measures after the COVID-19 crisis. This proposal deserves our attention because it gives us a glimpse of the hard-nosed strategy of the EU that lies behind it. In the EU, the climate crisis has always been a critical issue that has influenced the changes in the times, from corporate accounting principles and CSR to TCFD, sustainable finance, and, consequently, the construction of a sustainable society. The EU has a history of making determined efforts to gain global leadership so it can ensure that things always work to its advantage. In its efforts to make a speedy recovery after sustaining enormous damage due to the delay in its initial response to the coronavirus crisis, its linking of the climate crisis to the coronavirus crisis could, at first glance, be construed as a decentralization of power, but it actually makes sense given the EU’s strong political, economic and social strategies for seizing the initiative in the post-coronavirus era that lie behind such a direction. (* As of 18 May 2020)
This situation prompts sudden concern about Japan’s own ability to respond strategically to these two crises. Unfortunately, there are no conspicuous signs of any moves toward a Japanese version of a “green recovery” – not in the government as it works so feverishly to control the virus, not among Japanese companies, whose management has been plunged into turmoil, and not among the general public, whose social lives have been so disrupted. Throughout its modern history, Japan has overcome many different national crises, starting with the end of World War II and including the oil crisis, the global financial crisis, and the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake and Great East Japan Earthquake disasters. Although Japan may have fallen behind the new global trends right at this moment, that is not to say that it lacks any potential. There are many factors that could push Japan back onto the main stage, including the emergence of non-state actors. The problem is that Japan lacks a national strategy for drawing those factors out, banding them together, and creating maximum outcomes from them.
This moment could represent the perfect opportunity for Japan. Reason being, the coronavirus crisis has caused a major shake-up in people’s mindsets, or the value standards against which they think about things, and it is starting to break down many long-entrenched taboos. Many people are starting to reconsider the intrinsic value of everything they have now, to question things, and to make new choices. To wonder whether the world of today that we have created so assiduously is really right. To put it another way, traditional values, customary values, and values that rationalize the status quo in a positive way are being upset, and the “social walls” that have, until now, suppressed desirable reforms and new things that needed to be done have been torn down in one fell swoop. This is where Japan currently stands. We must not let this opportunity pass us by.
Turning our eyes to the world, with this major wavering of values that had existed until only yesterday, the search for a “a new normal” has begun. In a world that is one step ahead of Japan, amid dramatic social change being generated by simultaneous action on the two crises, which countries, which societies, which industries or companies will be quickest to achieve that change more deeply? A new global competition has begun in which the answers to these questions will decide their future fate.
For Japan to emerge victorious in the international race toward the post-coronavirus era, it has never been more important to value the data and information that we possess, to pursue a thoroughly scientific approach to finding solutions, and to conduct open policy debate that involves many stakeholders. We must nurture empathy toward those who support society, embed trust in all corners of society, and create a nation and society in which all of us pool our wisdom and work hard together. It is when we achieve this that we will prevail as a truly democratic nation.