Addressing Butterfly Questions: The Planet, Plastic Pollution and Policy Pathways at Japan's G20
In its fifth year, the 2019 G20 Interfaith Forumgathered outside of Tokyo to discuss an ambitious agenda organized under the triple-P thematic of Peace, People and Planet: Pathways Forward. While each of these broad themes guided discussions both in panels and plenaries, from the Forum’s outset it became clear that a reoccurring focus would be the importance of protecting the planet in order to support its people and to promote peace. The data presented at the Forum’s inception plenary was too compelling to ignore: according to multiple speakers, planet degradation has costed approximately $US11 trillion to date. But beyond the financial aspect, the environmental and ethical considerations that go into evaluating why this is a reality were at the core of the discussions among the Forum’s interfaithleaders. This focus instigated a number of compelling “butterfly questions” where participants probed and reflected on the implicit human aspect of environmental degradation. In their discussion, speakers often referenced the postwar tale of former Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s lamentation of no longer seeing butterflies in his imperial garden due to environmental degradation. Taking this issue up with Japan’s political leadership at the time, Hirohito instigated the establishment of an environmental program to address pollution in Tokyo, leading to great results and the return of butterflies to his city garden. But in today’s multipolar system, responding to the magnitude and pace of the transnational issues of pollution and climate change on a global scale at a time when the multilateral system is perceived to be eroding seems simultaneously dire, daunting and difficult. And the likelihood of creating an environment where butterflies would like to return seems increasingly fleeting.