Outline of Speech at the STS Forum (7 October 2018, Kyoto)

Regional Circular and Ecological Sphere (Regional CES)

Prof. Kazuhiko Takeuchi
President, IGES

Prof. Kazuhiko TAKEUCHI

Prof. Kazuhiko TAKEUCHI

The 15th Annual Meeting of the Science and Technology in Society forum was held at the Kyoto International Conference Center from 7 to 9 October, 2018. The forum focused on lights and shadows of science and technology, and brought together global leaders in academia, industry and government from around 80 countries and regions, encouraging them to engage in a lively dialogue on how to bring about a long-term sustainable society. In the Climate Change session held on the first day of the forum, Prof. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, President of IGES, introduced the idea of a "Regional Circular and Ecological Sphere" emphasising the importance of this concept in building a society in harmony with nature where both material and carbon are circulated. Details can be found in his speech below.

Today I would like to talk about a new concept, the "Regional Circular and Ecological Sphere" or "Regional CES" for short, which has emerged through deliberations on the 5th Basic Environment Plan of Japan. Regional CES is set to become the basic guiding concept for environmental policies in Japan. I hope it can be instrumental for other countries and the international community. I would like to briefly introduce the background and the utility of the concept and its implications for Japan and beyond.

Japan had earlier proposed the concept the ‘’regional circular sphere’’ in 2008 and embraced the 3R principles of material recycling. The 3R principles, i.e. reduce, reuse and recycle were set as the foundation of the Fundamental Plan for Establishing a Sound Material-cycle Society through a multi-layered, systematic approach, involving local governments. The National Biodiversity Strategy (2012-2020) of Japan, on the other hand, provided a roadmap towards the Establishment of an Enriching Society in Harmony with Nature. This strategy recognised the importance of strengthening the urban-rural cooperation and exchange, based on the idea of a “socio-ecological sphere”. It envisaged resilient societies based on sustainable production of natural capital and ecosystem services and recommended establishing stronger linkages between rural producers and urban consumers.

I would like to bring to your attention that climate change adaptation, as we are discussing today, and the transition towards future sustainability primarily requires moving towards a decarbonised / low-carbon society. Such a low-carbon society stands firmly upon not only material circulation, but also the circulation of carbon. While we have addressed materials circulation under the principles of circular economy, harbouring the tremendous potential of regional renewable energy is very important for future low-carbon societies. As Dr. Klaus Töpfer - the former executive director of United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) pointed out, we need more renewable energy, which is from a decentralised origin, making use of local production for local consumption, and based on the natural capital and ecosystem services. So far we have underestimated its potential. Hence, I believe that re-discovering regional resources, and utilising and managing them in a sustainable manner is key for future sustainability. This, in my opinion, also requires societal and institutional reforms and revitalisation of rural communities.

The Government of Japan recently formulated the 5th Basic Environment Plan, based on the deliberations of the Central Environment Council (CEC), which I chaired. In 2014, we recognised that although Japan had addressed the aspects of material and energy circulation separately, integration of a low-carbon society, a resource-circulating society and a society in harmony in nature is crucial. Therefore, the CEC suggested the Regional CES concept to the Minister of Environment. The Regional CES concept was framed based on an integrated policy approach that incorporates the (a) concepts of low-carbon society, (b) resource circulation, and (c) living in harmony with nature. The concept highlights decarbonisation through the circulation of both material and carbon, which I consider extremely important, not only for Japan, but also for many other countries.

Regional CES also provides a concrete vision of an integrated approach covering economic, social and environmental dimensions as indicated in SDGs. The Plan embraces the SDGs and attempts to downscale their fundamental messages, namely that environmental, economic, and social issues are indivisible and contribute to the understanding of interlinkages at a local scale. While the SDGs may mistakenly be viewed as a bundle of 17 distinct goals, the Plan focuses on the wisdom underlying the SDGs that environmental and social issues are inter-related and need to be addressed in an integrated manner. It aims to realise "Integrated Improvements on Environment, Economy, and Society" or II2ES. The key to achieving II2ES is to first form a self-reliant and decentralised society in line with local needs, and then to have various elements complement each other among neighbouring communities making the sustainable use of available regional resources.

Moreover, the concept of Regional CES intends to generate new value chains, while complementing and supporting regional resources by building broader networks composed of natural connections - linkages among forests, rural areas, cities, rivers, and ocean - and economic connections composed of human resources, financial capital, and commodity supply. Each region will demonstrate its strengths by utilising its unique characteristics. A self-reliant and decentralised society will be built where different resources are circulated within each region, and where there is symbiosis and exchange with neighbouring regions according to unique characteristics, making use of the wide range of resources found in mountainous, agricultural and fishing villages as well as in cities.

In fact, the Regional CES aims to revisit regional and local resources through a collaborative approach, involving multiple stakeholders, which would be beneficial for rural rejuvenation and economic upliftment of rural communities. Some of the local communities in Japan are currently finding it difficult with regards to income generation. Also, they are facing difficult and inherent challenges associated with depopulation, environmental degradation, changing economic activities and industries, and emerging issues such as climate change. The concept produces great opportunities to include wise use of locally abundant natural capitals, such as solar, wind etc. and thus can serve as a means for local income generation and economic revitalisation of rural communities. It creates economic and social benefits by generating employment within the region and, as a local source of energy, it contributes to energy security when national supply is affected by disasters. The benefits can be enhanced by using biomass from the thinning of local planted forests, which in many areas are no longer managed well because of depopulation. This will contribute to forest health and the conservation of the rich natural environment, thereby creating multiple benefits cutting across economy, society and the environment. Thus, the concept can serve as a low-carbon and resource conservation strategy since it substitutes for fossil fuels and reduces the need for long-distance transportation of energies from other areas or regions.

The Regional CES concept underlines the importance of promoting resource circulation on optimal scales according to the characteristics of the regions concerned, and the nature of resources to be recycled. Resources suitable for circulation in a small area should be circulated in the smallest zone possible, while resources suitable for circulation in a larger area should be circulated in a much more expanded area. In this way resource circulation can be optimised with a combination of overlapping circular areas according to the resources to be circulated. Regional CES could be applied to small areas at the community or municipal level in certain cases, but may be appropriately applied on a much larger scale such as a river basin, or a prefecture, or a country, or even across a region such as Asia, depending on the case. In Japan, we already started implementing the Regional CES concept under the SDG Future City initiative (2018) which covers 29 cities. One precise example is Suzu-city, located at the northern tip of the Noto peninsula in the Ishikawa prefecture, which adopted the Regional CES concept.

I believe that the concept of Regional CES can be applied globally under the consideration of regional and local circumstances of natural and human capital and it is applicable for various cities and rural communities. It can help people in urban areas better appreciate how they benefit from nature. It can also help them recognise their connections with nature through the products and services they received from their region. This could lead to concrete actions to support villages through increased participation in nature conservation activities and expanded purchase of products from environmentally sound agriculture. In other words, Regional CES is a concept to maximise the vitality of all regions, making sustainable, equitable and efficient use of resources of mountainous, agricultural and fishing villages as well as cities in an integrated manner.

Finally, I would like to stress that for Regional CES to be effectively put into practice, it will become increasingly important to forge partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders, including the central and local governments, private sectors, academia, and civil society actors.

Many challenges lie ahead, but I hope my discussion on Regional CES today helps to inspire your thinking. I would like to invite all of you to join me in the endeavour to operationalise the concept of Regional CES, not just in Japan but also on a global scale.


The Fifth Basic Environment Plan

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