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The Next Economy
Shimokawa Town:
A Collaborative Approach to Building an SDGs Future City

Shimokawa Town in Hokkaido is a designated SDGs Future City and the winner of the first Prime Minister’s Japan SDGs Award in 2017. Four years on, Shimokawa is still working earnestly to achieve the goals and is keen to share its progress, new initiatives, and challenges along the way.

The Sustainable Development Goals are intrinsically linked to sustainable urban development and regional revitalization, so the Japanese Cabinet Office in turn promotes regional revitalization fueled by the SDGs. As part of that drive, Japan’s central government selects local governments that propose excellent initiatives as SDGs Future Cities and extends support. Shimokawa Town in Hokkaido is a designated SDGs Future City and the winner of the first Prime Minister’s Japan SDGs Award in 2017. Four years on, Shimokawa is still working earnestly to achieve the goals and is keen to share its progress, new initiatives, and challenges along the way.

Using the SDGs to stem depopulation, create a sustainable Forest Future City

Shimokawa is a town in northern Hokkaido with a population of roughly 3,200. 90 percent of the surrounding area is forest and the town’s core industries are agriculture and forestry. Previously a flourishing mining town, Shimokawa suffered rapid depopulation once the mines closed in the early ‘80s. Determined to arrest the decline, the town threw itself into various efforts to realize a sustainable local community as a Forest Future City. The basic concept of creating sustainable local communities through harmonious co-existence between economies, society and the environment dovetailed nicely with the SDGs, so they reconsidered their activities on an SDGs basis. Following six months of discussions attended by 10 representatives from the private sector and 10 local government officials, they produced seven goals designed to achieve the Shimokawa Vision 2030.

Having started working to realize a sustainable local society in the 2000s, Shimokawa subsequently added the SDGs to its amassed wealth of initiatives with the aim of introducing new perspectives and measures to further invigorate the town’s activities. By reconsidering local issues from the perspective of the 17 SDGs, they discovered new issues and developed a new level of awareness, using backcasting from the year 2030 to gain a comprehensive understanding of required current action. Shimokawa is also incorporating and utilizing the SDGs by, for instance, appealing the attractiveness and future prospects of the region to people in Japan and internationally under the SDGs framework; and encouraging more migrants, nonresident populations, companies and investment into the region.

2nd SDGs Future City Plan incorporates specific indicators to generate steady results

In April 2021, Shimokawa announced its 2nd SDGs Future City Plan (2021-2023), which sets key performance indicators (KPI) with specific targets. The first plan, announced in 2018, reviewed and refined preliminary KPIs to ensure maximum precision. While this process is still underway, the town’s social KPIs are notable.

Many Japanese companies and organizations apparently find it difficult to determine specific metrics for social impacts when compiling sustainability-related KPI. While it is easy to measure waste volumes or crop production, it is difficult to use fair standards to quantify elements that involve personal assessments — such as a how easy it is to raise children or live in a particular area.

In Shimokawa, the town overcame this problem by surveying local residents at each milestone. They aggregated the answers on whether their town was an easy place to live or whether people were satisfied with the environment to enable them to verify performance against numerical targets.

The second plan focuses on conveying and spreading information about Shimokawa and using their SDGs-related activities and base to solve problems together with governments, companies, and other groups from inside and outside the town. In Japan, they share information through a regional revitalization SDGs public-private partnership platform, cooperative frameworks with other municipalities and various events. They also work with international organizations such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency and participate in international conferences.

Using the SDGs as a stepping stone, Shimokawa is expanding its challenge and promoting its town to people across Japan and worldwide.

Increased migration and agricultural production: Achieving Shimokawa Vision 2030

Shimokawa’s efforts are steadily bearing fruit: Migration is increasing, with 32 new migrants arriving in 2020. At first glance, that might seem like a small number — but, for a town of approximately 3,200, that’s 1 percent of the population; and given the major rural depopulation and overall population decline taking place throughout Japan, a 1 percent increase is substantial. COVID-19 has also made migration difficult since 2020; and Shimokawa is witnessing an increase in migration consultations, so more migrants may arrive once COVID-19 infections ease.

Agricultural production has also increased significantly — rising from 2.6 billion yen in 2017 to 3.4 billion yen in 2020, with the number of agricultural households increasing from 142 to 157.

These successes are proof that the SDGs and other efforts to develop sustainable communities have touched and been appreciated by a variety of different people. This SDGs Future City is moving steadily towards its ultimate goals by encouraging people involved in forest-related operations, such as wood crafts or furniture making, and people attracted by the ease of raising children or environment-conscious living, to participate in the town’s development as a member of Shimokawa.

Shimokawa is currently focused on spreading further awareness of the SDGs. If longtime locals and newcomers alike each utilize the SDGs to help practice their own form of sustainable community development, that should help realize the Shimokawa Vision 2030 and help steadily progress the path towards a truly sustainable world.