"The World and Japan" Database (Project Leader: TANAKA Akihiko)
Database of Japanese Politics and International Relations
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS); Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (IASA), The University of Tokyo

[Title] Address by the Prime Minister at the Science and Technology in Society Forum (STS Forum) 2019

[Date] October 6, 2019
[Source] Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet
[Notes] Provisional Translation
[Full text]

Chairman Omi, congratulations to you for holding STS Forum 2019 again this year.

Each year, for the last seven years, I have scratched my head over what to talk about here. But this year, it was a piece of cake.

It is that the belief of Chairman Omi and everyone here -- that science and technology make the world a better place -- is absolutely correct, and that now is the time for all of us to renew our confidence in the roles that science and technology can play. So this year, I want to stress: first, that you are correct, and second, that you can do even more, and I want to be your cheerleader in chief.

Just recently in Yokohama my government hosted the Seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD7), to which we have, since 1993, invited heads of state and government from all over Africa to discuss growth. And before this, in June, I hosted the G20 summit in Osaka.

At both of these, we discussed the role of science and technology.

TICAD7 confirmed the point that STI is important in achieving the SDGs. This is the very same position the STS Forum has held for many years: STI -- science, technology, and innovation -- is crucial for realizing the SDGs.

For example, we can see the state of crop harvests by looking at the surface of the earth from a satellite up in the space. If we know the yield to come, we can foresee the income farmers will get. And if farmers' cash flow can be predicted, it will be easier for farmers to get access to finance. That is just one example.

Meanwhile, the world leaders who came together at the Osaka G20 summit made a pledge, that they will work to reduce the amount of new pollution from marine plastic litter down to zero by 2050.

One thing I am very glad about is that the G20 Osaka Leaders' Declaration recognized the important role of plastics for society.

We should be proud of some of the great inventions the 20th century gave us. Plastics are one of them. Without plastics, we could not have made packages of fresh food, that are easy to be shipped, and put on display at supermarkets.

Plastics have been a great equalizer connecting farmers and consumers. And because they will be necessary in the future as well, we must not look on plastics as the enemy, nor give the cold shoulder to people who use them.

What we need is the good management of waste while calling for innovations to give us solutions.

It is for this very reason that my government will launch a program to support the efforts of developing countries in the areas of MA, R, IN, and E or the MARINE.

The MA stands for the "management of wastes"; R for "recovery" of marine litter; IN for "innovation"; and E for "empowerment," meaning that we must make our waste managers empowered and make them our heroes.

Among these, I want to stress the value of innovation.

In one Japanese company, scientists spent a lot of time in the mountains looking for microorganisms.

Luckily for them, one day on their own factory grounds they found an ideal microorganism. This was in 1993.

Those special microorganisms were exactly what the scientists had been looking for because they have the power to condense polymers within their own bodies, in much the same way that we humans store fat. around our waists.

To make a long story short, after that, they succeeded in engineering microorganism that store more polymers and made it to produce biogradable plastic on the mass production line.

This plastic is one that can decompose at normal temperatures, even in the ocean. I understand that the speeds to melt are the same as that for the cellulose found in paper. The plastic comes not from petroleum but from vegetable oil, and it is a biodegradable plastic that decomposes back in soils and in water, and yet boasts the same performance as plastics made from petroleum. This is an achievement of the Japanese company Kaneka.

Kaneka's production capacity will soon reach 5,000 tons a year. It is still a tiny amount for sure but it is being mass produced.

This is a really encouraging development.

Ladies and gentlemen, right now, the trend to be "anti this" and "anti that" can be seen around the world: anti-growth, anti-capitalism, anti-globalism, and anti-plastic.

I too understand that each of these has its unique reasons and circumstances. But I also know that there is a way to bridge the gap. It is a way that continues on towards the future. That way is nothing other than innovation.

Those of you attending the forum share a positive, active mindset, so whenever you hear there is a "problem" the next moment you know you are thinking about a "solution." We have great expectations for that proactive attitude.

The future of humankind depends on science and technology, and your roles will become even more important.

I very much hope that now more than ever you come to have even greater confidence in your own work and the power you possess.

Thank you very much.