Climate change, the buildup of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide which leads to change in global weather patterns, will pose a wide set of challenges for the world’s leading cities. Tokyo is no exception. The combination of Japan’s status as a net importer of both food and energy as well as Tokyo’s status as the largest city in the world make Tokyo particularly vulnerable to climate change. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has two unique motivations to shift towards sustainability. First, the 2011 Tsunami has had a strong impact on the psyche of the Japanese populace. Following the Tsunami, locals not only put a stronger emphasis on conserving energy, but also had a strong aversion to nuclear energy, which had previously been a significant source of energy for the country. Second, hosting the 2020 Summer Olympic Games has been a great stimulator of sustainable reform as Tokyo will be able to show its progress on world stage. This post will discuss some of the strategies the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) has employed to transform into one of the world’s most sustainable cities and how the TMG further promote sustainability within the global community.
In 2006 the TMG announced its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 25% from the 2000 level by 2020. One of unique strategies the TMG employed was to rollout a green building program. Starting in 2002, all developers building projects with floor space over 10,000 were required to submit their floorplans to the TMG to be evaluated on four points: “appropriate utilization of resources”, “protection of natural environment”, “streamlining of energy use”, and “mitigation of the heat island phenomenon”. Through this four pronged regulatory system, the TMG has been able to incentivize builders to include sustainable elements in their building plans. One of the most notable behaviors that resulted from this regulation is the inclusion of greeneries (essentially vegetation within the building structure itself or parks/gardens within the plot of land being built on). Adding greeneries to large buildings has helped the city increase its natural ability to store rainwater and purify the air. Moreover, because the greeneries are so visually stunning, sustainability has been brought to the forefront of consumers’ minds in a very positive light!
Another innovative strategy the TMG launched is a Cap-and-Trade Program. The program launched in 2010, making it the world’s first mandatory reduction program for office buildings and commercial facilities. The program targets large facilities to maximize return on effort. To give a sense of size, the minimum energy consumption for buildings to qualify for the program is crude oil consumption of 1,500KL/year which translates to about 2,000-3,000 tons of CO2. Much like participants in international cap-and-trade programs, participants in the TMG program can achieve their mandatory level of CO2 reduction by either reducing themselves or by purchasing credits from other participants. Although the program must be implemented by building owners, tenants are the largest consumers of energy so building owners and tenants must work together to achieve CO2 reductions. This cooperation between developers and smaller business owners has helped the business community prioritize and promote sustainability.
The 2020 Olympics are a perfect platform for Tokyo to share its sustainable values with the global community. One of the interesting ways in which Tokyo is promoting sustainability during the Olympic Games is to link sustainability to Japanese culture. For example, in the official language about the Games, Tokyo is using the traditional Japanese concepts of taru wo shiru (what you have is all you need) and mottainai (concept of avoiding waste). Tying sustainability to learning about the culture of Japan is a great educational strategy because it contextualizes what to some can be a complex scientific concept and because it connects directly to one of the main goals of the Olympic Games – the sharing of culture.
Going forward, I would encourage the city of Tokyo to find more platforms to educate the world about its steps towards sustainability. More specifically, the TMG should show other governments how it has rolled out and benefited from its sustainable practices. As discussed in class, people (or governments) will naturally be reluctant to experiment until they see proven results. Given that Tokyo is an “extreme case” in terms of population and reliance on imported energy/food, if the TMG can move towards sustainability other governments can too! (751 words)