Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. Good morning, everyone in Tokyo. Thank you very much, Dr. Mike Sfraga, and the team at Wilson Center. Also thank you very much, my long-time friend, Mr. Mead Treadwell, for your kind introduction.
It is my great pleasure to be able to attend this special webinar focused on the Arctic and I would like to express my gratitude for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for organizing this wonderful online symposium despite the global spread of the COVID-19.
During my visit to Washington D.C. in September 2019, I participated in a cooperative dialogue between U.S. and Japanese think tanks organized by the Wilson Center and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. I remembered very well we had very fruitful discussion at that time. I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to see some of you again through this webinar.
２．Importance of Arctic Issues for Japan as a Maritime Nation
Japan, as a maritime nation surrounded by the sea on all sides, is the closest Asian country to the Arctic, directly connected there through the sea. This geographical position makes Japan susceptible to climate change in the Arctic.
Arctic surface air temperature has likely increased by more than double the global average over the last two decades, which was pointed out in the April 2017 report of Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment performed by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) and the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate adopted in September 2019. The report made a shocking prediction that the Arctic may be largely ice-free in summer by the late 2030s.
These ongoing environmental changes in the Arctic pose a great threat to ecosystems and the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples in the Arctic, and have become a truly global issue that could affect the whole planet. Japan will be investigating further through observation and research by actively promoting international cooperation, while paying more attention to the effects on the indigenous people’s lives.
３．Efforts for U.S.-Japan Arctic Cooperation
I have continuously been engaged in Arctic issues, even before appointment to the current position. I have participated in various activities of the Parliamentary League of Arctic Frontier Study as a founding member and Chief Secretary. For example, in 2016, I visited Ny-Ålesund in Svalbard, Norway, to participate in an international workshop where I made a speech for the 25th opening anniversary of the Ny-Ålesund Research Observatory of the National Institute of Polar Research (NIPR).
In September 2019, during my stay in Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to exchange views on Arctic affairs with the distinguished U.S. counterparts, including Ms. Lisa Murkowski, Senator from Alaska. At the meeting, I proposed a new pillar of U.S.-Japan cooperation, “Promoting cooperation with Arctic countries through inter-parliamentary channels.” It consists of the following three specific proposals.
(1) To cooperate in hosting a side event in the 3rd Arctic Science Ministerial (ASM3) to be held in Tokyo in May this year.
(2) To cooperate in considering the use of Japan’s new Arctic research vessel to be built as an international research platform.
(3) To achieve bilateral youth exchange programs for those tackling critical issues in the Arctic.
I was very pleased that my dear Senator Murkowski not only endorsed my concepts, but also suggested her proposal to promote the U.S.-Japan parliamentary exchange on the Arctic for further continuous discussions.
In December of the same year, I also had a chance to exchange views with a group of young Athabascans, indigenous peoples of Alaska, who were invited to Japan through the KAKEHASHI Project, a people to people exchange program between Japan and North America. KAKEHASHI indicates the bridge for tomorrow.
In addition, in order to promote the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Japan’s policy-making, I established the Liberal Democratic Party’s SDGs Diplomacy Caucus in April 2017. As Chairperson, I led various activities and proposed policy recommendations.
I believe that the achieving of the SDGs in the Arctic is a key concept for tackling a wide range of issues in the Arctic. In fact, looking at the trends of the Arctic Council (AC) in recent years, in which Japan has been participating as an observer state, in 2013 Canada, as Chair of the AC at that time, has raised “sustainable circumpolar communities” as one of the important agendas. Then comes Finland, Chair of the AC from 2017 to 2019, has emphasized the implementation of the SDGs in Arctic cooperation. It is important for us to actively collaborate with various stakeholders with whom we share a common destiny on the Earth, as well as to work together on challenging tasks from the perspective of a sustainable Arctic.
And I think it’s also important to ensure the rule of low as a common interest for both countries.
４．Arctic Policy of Japan
The Arctic policy of Japan is based on “Japan’s Arctic Policy,” a national policy paper decided by the Headquarters for Ocean Policy in 2015, and the Third Basic Plan on Ocean Policy approved by the Cabinet in 2018. Our policy basically consists of the following 3 pillars.
①Research and development through strengthening the observational and research system pertaining to the Arctic region,
②International Cooperation through proactively participation in the formulation of international rule,
③Sustainable use of the Arctic Sea Route.
The Japanese government is working altogether with private entities and research institutes for those goals.
５．Observation and, Research
The Arctic region still has so many areas where are vacuum in observation data that we lack of scientific knowledge regarding the Arctic compared to other ocean areas. It is urgent to expand observations and research further.
Since the establishment of the international observatory in Ny-Ålesund, Norway, in 1991, Japan has been steadily and continuously conducting Arctic observations through international cooperation. These high-quality, continuous observation data have contributed to the prediction of global climate change. I’m proud of this great contribution.
In 2011, the Japanese government launched “GRENE”, Arctic Climate Change Research Project as a large-scale Arctic research project, contributing to the elucidation of the mechanism of Arctic warming amplification.
As a successor project, “the Arctic Challenge for Sustainability (ArCS)” started in 2015. In this project, young Japanese researchers were accepted by the “International Arctic Research Center (IARC)” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where they were provided with valuable opportunities for training.
In the “Arctic Challenge for Sustainability (ArCS II)”, which was launched last year, we plan to further accelerate the collaboration between ocean and space observations in order to understand the dynamics of the earth in cooperation with U.S. This will enable us to get a better three-dimensional view of the Arctic region and a better bird’s eye view of the Earth. The data acquired by Japanese researchers will be made available to the world through the “Arctic Data archive System (ADS)”, and will be utilized by many stakeholders in the world.
In addition, social science researchers will also participate in the project, and will accelerate giving back the research results to people living in the Arctic region, including the indigenous people, to understand how their lifestyle in the region will change due to climate change.
It is also necessary to acquire and share the data on the Arctic Ocean through international cooperation among many countries. The Japanese government has decided to build an Arctic research vessel to serve as an international platform for Arctic research. The construction of the vessel will begin as soon as the Diet approves the government’s budget draft. In the five years leading up to the vessel’s commissioning, Japan will accelerate discussions on an international framework for strengthening the international observation network and the data sharing system for the Arctic region, including the strengthening of the “Sustaining Arctic Observing Networks (SAON)” to fill the largest observation data gap on the planet.
The 3rd Arctic Science Ministerial (ASM3) co-hosted by Iceland and Japan will take place in May this year. This is an excellent opportunity to connect international ties in the field of science in the Arctic region. Observational data from the Arctic region is of great significance in understanding and predicting the global climate change.
In order to respond to this great challenge facing humanity, the Arctic region must be the embodiment of international cooperation, which may be called “Ocean of Collaboration”. With not only member states and indigenous peoples’ organizations but also many other participating countries, we would like to send out a powerful message under the theme of “Knowledge for a Sustainable Arctic” to build an international cooperative system for the future, which is necessary to make the Arctic region open to all humankind. For the success of the first meeting in Asia, Tokyo, I would like to ask for the support of U.S. as the first hosting country of Arctic Science Ministerial (ASM1).
Personally, I would also like to support the success of ASM3 and further deepen our bilateral relationship through the U.S.-Japan parliamentary exchange event at the opportunity of the Arctic Circle Japan Forum.
７．Utilization of Arctic Sea Route
Due to the Arctic sea ice decline, there have been a growing interest in use of the Arctic Sea Route as a new option for marine transport. For example, maritime transport routes linking East Asia and Europe through the Arctic Sea Route can shorten the voyage to about 60% with a lower risk of piracy, compared to the “Southern Sea Route” via the Malacca Straits and the Suez Canal. So I think it can be called “Sea of Hope”.
Of course, we have to use the Arctic in sustainable way because the Arctic itself is a fragile environment. With that in mind, Japan holds regular meetings of the ” Council of Industry-Academia-Government Collaboration on the Arctic Sea Route,” which consists of private entities, research institutes, and administrative agencies and promotes the development of an environment for Japanese companies to use the Arctic Sea Route by providing and sharing information on trends in related systems in coastal countries and in the use of the Arctic Sea Route.
In addition, by utilizing Japan’s excellent science and technology as well as observation data, we are working to establish a navigational support system that will be useful in ensuring the safety of navigation in the Arctic Ocean aiming for sustainable use.
８．International Cooperation and Collaboration with U.S.
Through the Arctic Council and other international organizations, Japan will continue to cooperate and collaborate with other countries, for contributing to scientific research and observation, to sustainable economic activities that take into account ecosystems and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and ensuring the rule of law.
Especially with the United States, I hope that U.S.-Japan think tanks will continue their collaboration to set up forums for discussion like this symposium, and that political U.S. –Japan cooperation and collaboration on the Arctic issues will further progress under the new Biden administration. And we welcome President Biden’s announcement of the U.S. rejoining to the Paris Agreement.
Since the Wilson Center has a wide range of knowledge and experience as a think tank, I have found it desirable to widen the scope of discussion to cover our common interests such as tourism, fisheries, sea route, national security, public health, education, gender, telemedicine, energy, and infrastructure.
At the same time, I believe it is also important to deepen discussions and exchanges at the political level, for example, by holding workshops with legislators from both Japan and U.S. In order to demonstrate leadership by politicians, I myself would like to continue expanding U.S.-Japan parliamentary exchanges, working closely with my friend Senator Murkowski.
Thank you very much for your kind attention, especially to the all listeners.