Human Security: Japan’s Lightning Rod to Advance Sustainable Development

July 18, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, devastating lives and livelihoods in many corners of the globe. At the same time, the largest number of violent conflicts since 1946 is causing record-high numbers of people to be forcibly displaced from their homes. That includes the war on Ukraine, which is not only causing immense human suffering but is also playing a role in precipitating a global food, energy, and finance crisis. As a result, the world now faces its worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

A new UNDP report has found that 71 million people have fallen into poverty in just three months as a direct consequence of global food and energy price surges. Meanwhile, the climate emergency is intensifying. “Our world is facing a perfect storm of compounding crises yet the human security concept -- defined as freedom from fear; freedom from want; and freedom to live in dignity -- can help the world to navigate these multiple crises and drive progress towards all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner in meetings with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and several government and private sector partners in Tokyo, Japan this week.

UNDP’s Special Report on Human Security, released earlier in 2022, warned that even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, six in seven people -- in both low and high-income countries alike -- felt insecure despite human development soaring and some of the highest levels of health, wealth, and education outcomes in history. “When we use the human security approach to illuminate development ‘blind spots’, it shows how countries’ quest for GDP growth alone is falling short. It also highlights how our dominant economic and financial systems are failing by fueling climate change and driving the destruction of our natural world,” stated Steiner.

The human security approach, first outlined in UNDP’s 1994 Human Development Report is far from a theoretical concept. It has long been championed by Japan as a backbone of its foreign policy and in its engagement with UNDP globally.

Japan has led from the front in recent times with its swift assistance to crisis-torn countries, as Steiner noted in his meeting with Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, H.E HAYASHI Yoshimasa. In all of his meetings, Steiner extended his sincere condolences on the tragic death of former Prime Minister ABE SHiNZO, noting his deep commitment to development, especially to human security.

For decades, Japan has been putting the human security concept into practice across the world. That includes Afghanistan where Japan has been actively engaged in the reconstruction of the country since 2002. That includes prioritizing human security as part of its support to UNDP’s ABADEI strategy, which is currently assisting vulnerable Afghans to meet daily needs and services like water and energy; revitalizing local markets; and providing new livelihood opportunities.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Japan immediately responded to the appeal for humanitarian assistance, providing $4.5 million as the first donor for UNDP’s emergency operation to clear explosive ordnance and remove debris. This assistance boosted human security by enabling the safe access of critical humanitarian supplies like food and medication. In parallel, it is helping to address the threat posed to local communities by the mounting number of damaged and unstable buildings, including the possibility of uncontrolled collapses.

Recognising that health is central to human security, Japan is notably working to advance universal health coverage. Or consider the partnership between UNDP, the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund and Japan, which is investing in research & development, and innovative health technologies to tackle neglected tropical diseases, tuberculosis, and malaria. Japan’s support to UNDP is also helping developing countries to adopt cutting-edge digital tools to boost the deployment of vaccines and mobile health services, while enhancing access to health information.

The upcoming 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD8) provides another opportunity to see how human security can drive action where it is needed most. “At this very moment, nearly 250,000 people in Somalia are at risk of imminent starvation, to give just one stark example. Increasingly, countries with the most limited means to cope are left bearing the heaviest burdens,” said Steiner during an address to the UNDP/JICA Special Forum on TICAD8. “With TICAD8 and Japan’s G7 Presidency now on the horizon, UNDP’s forthcoming Human Development Report to be released later in 2022 will explore how to further leverage the human security concept -- helping the world to pinpoint development shortcomings while boosting global solidarity in key areas like climate action,” added Steiner.

Japan is also opening up new horizons on the global approach to sustainable development. Prime Minister KISHIDA Fumio launched his “new form of capitalism” based on increased cooperation between the public and private sectors to create a “virtuous cycle of growth and distribution and the development of a new post-COVID-19 society”.

In line with this thinking, Administrator Steiner launched a first-of-its-kind training course on SDG Impact Standards for Enterprises with politicians and leaders from Japan’s private sector. This training course is the latest milestone in the groundbreaking work of UNDP’s SDG Impact initiative, which is empowering enterprises and investors with new insights and tools to achieve the SDGs. Japan’s private sector is helping to demonstrate the immense benefits to placing sustainability and managing for impact at the core of business purpose and decision-making: from an ‘add-on’ to what business gets done, to how all business is done. 

“To achieve the SDGs, we need a fit-for-purpose development model that recognizes the true value of nature: one that is built on decarbonization, climate action, the restoration of our environment, and new opportunities for all,” Steiner underlined at the Nikkei TICAD x Human Security Event.