Even as we approach the second anniversary of the official declaration of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, variants continue to emerge, causing new waves of infection and creating challenging conditions in many countries. It is distressing to contemplate the reality of people around the world who, without solace or support, carry the wounds of lost health, livelihoods and purpose, or who anguish at the loss of family members or friends.
When we consider the events and trends that mark historical periods, it is clear that we cannot allow this story to be one only of devastating loss undergone and endured. I say this because I firmly believe that the key factor determining the direction of history will prove to be we humans ourselves, and not a virus.
Most crucial is to forge bonds of solidarity from the realizations of connectedness that have come to us deeply and intensely during this unprecedented crisis, and make these the basis for shared efforts to find a way out of the storm.
I would like to discuss, from three different perspectives, the things that I see as essential to overcoming not only the COVID-19 crisis but also the other challenges that confront our world, thus opening a new chapter in human history.
The first is to face head-on the issues the pandemic has exposed and reweave the social fabric so that it can support people’s lives in the years and decades to come. Now more than ever, we need to construct a society where people can confront and together overcome even the most severe challenges, a society in which the palpable sense that it is good to be alive, is shared by all.
The second is that of creating a consciousness of solidarity that extends to the entire world.
The focus of pandemic response measures needs to be on how governments can work together to overcome this threat, not on how each individual state can escape the crisis. The G7 countries should lead efforts to negotiate a pandemic treaty that will establish international protocols for responding to future pandemics, and proactively develop the frameworks of international cooperation that can serve as a basis for such a treaty.
Third, I would like to call for an economy that inspires hope in young people and enables women to shine with dignity.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) is scheduled to convene a multilateral forum for a human-centered recovery this year. I propose that this occasion serve as a platform for countries to prioritize efforts to ensure decent, humane work for all, with a particular focus on improving employment conditions for young people. Further, I am thoroughly convinced that gender equality and women’s empowerment are the keys to overcoming the COVID-19 crisis and building an economy and society that sustain human dignity.
I would also like to offer concrete proposals regarding three key issue areas that require prompt resolution for the sake of current and future generations.
A UN-centered effort to overcome the climate crisis
The first issue area is climate change. With every passing year, the damage caused by extreme weather events has intensified and become more widespread. During COP26, the US and China agreed to strengthen measures for cooperation on climate action, and I strongly urge Japan and China to reach a similar agreement.
I would also like to call for strengthening the framework of partnership between the UN and civil society and propose the establishment of a venue within the UN where civil society, led by youth, can freely discuss the comprehensive protection of the “global commons,” the resources we all require in order to survive and flourish. A UN youth council would be a perfect vehicle for this.
In 2001, a Joint Liaison Group was set up to enhance cooperation in the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification. I believe it is time to expand this alliance to include and enlist the support of civil society. I am convinced that this would open new paths toward successfully addressing climate change.
In March, a Special Session of the UN Environment Assembly will be held in Nairobi to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the creation of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). I urge the adoption at this special session of a declaration that will delineate steps to strengthen a comprehensive approach to environmental issues from the perspective of safeguarding the global commons.
A healthy learning environment for children
The second issue area is education, and I would like to advance some proposals to ensure and enhance the provision of learning opportunities for children and adolescents.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global focus has been on public health and economic recovery. However, in addition to these issues is the pandemic’s impact on children and youth in the form of disrupted educational services and the loss of learning opportunities due to school closures. There are still enormous numbers of young learners stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide, unable to access the necessary means for distance learning. I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of strengthening international cooperation to ensure uninterrupted education for all children.
Another matter of key importance is to accelerate the provision of inclusive education, which guarantees the right to learning and education for children and young people with disabilities.
In September this year, the UN will convene the Transforming Education Summit. I believe this presents a perfect opportunity for productive discussions on such themes as education in emergencies and inclusive education. The agenda could also include learning for global citizenship as a crucial means of fostering the consciousness of global solidarity, which can serve as a shared basis for tackling the common crises facing humankind. I further encourage those involved to develop and adopt a global action plan for the learning, growth and happiness of all children.
Nuclear weapons abolition: The key to a sustainable global future
The third issue area to be addressed is the imperative to realize the abolition of nuclear weapons. Toward this end, I would like to make two proposals.
The first step is to find a way of “detoxifying” ourselves from current nuclear-dependent security doctrines.
This January 3, the leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states issued a statement on preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races. I call on the UN Security Council to use this joint statement as the basis for a resolution urging the five nuclear-weapon states to take concrete measures to fulfill their obligations to nuclear disarmament stipulated by Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
I further urge that language calling for a high-level meeting on the reduction of the role of nuclear weapons be agreed to and included in the final statement of the NPT Review Conference when it is held.
Japan will host the G7 Summit in 2023. I propose that a high-level meeting on reducing the role of nuclear weapons be held concurrently in Hiroshima, in which the leaders of non-G7 countries could also participate.
My second proposal pertains to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and once again I strongly call both for Japan and other nuclear-dependent states and for the nuclear-weapon states to participate as observers in the first meeting of states parties to the TPNW when it is held. I also suggest that a commitment be made at this meeting to create a permanent secretariat to ensure fulfillment of the obligations and international cooperation stipulated in the TPNW.
The crucial stage has now been reached in efforts to abolish nuclear weapons, and completing this task is how we can fulfill our responsibility to the future. Firm in this belief, the SGI will continue to advance, growing the solidarity of civil society with a special focus on youth, toward the creation of a culture of peace where all can enjoy the right to live in authentic security.