From Newsweek: From COVID to Climate Change, Urban Initiatives are Needed | Opinion

Originally published on Newsweek (March 25, 2021)
*Find the latest Zero Emission Tokyo Strategy here:“Zero Emission Tokyo Strategy 2020 Update & Report”
*In June 2021, efforts toward the implementation of "Tokyo Green Finance Market (temporary name)" have resulted in a proposal to be called the "Tokyo Green Finance Initiative (TGFI)." Find more on this initiative here: "Tokyo Green Finance Initiative (TGFI):Proposals for Developing Green Finance."
As we face the twin crises of the coronavirus and climate change, it is vital that action be taken at the city level, not just at the national level. Cities are at the forefront of tackling these challenges.
Aerial Views Of Tokyo, 2020 Summer Olympic Games Host City
photo by: Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images
Aerial Views Of Tokyo, 2020 Summer Olympic Games Host City

Yuriko Koike

Tokyo's governor. Former environment minister.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

The coronavirus has been raging worldwide for the past year, forcing cities and countries alike to respond. The unique position of cities has given them a closer connection to resident's lives, a more detailed understanding of the problems they face and a better ability to tailor their responses to social issues.

The lives, health and safety of residents has always been my first priority. Because of this, Tokyo has kept deaths and severe cases extremely low compared to other developed nations, even despite our large elderly population.

Looking ahead, we must consider the matter of recovery and reconstruction. The coronavirus pandemic did not just made a deep impact on our economy and society, it has left people mentally, physically and spiritually exhausted. A global trend is emerging that aims for sustainable economic recovery and lifestyles while coping with the climate crisis. Urban initiatives will be important here. The Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 this summer will demonstrate before the world how we are making sustainable recovery a reality.

Now is the time to take action. In December 2019, we formulated the Zero Emission Tokyo Strategy, complete with a roadmap and concrete initiatives aimed to eliminate CO2 emissions by 2050. On January 27, as part of the Davos Agenda, we announced our half carbon goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Tokyo by 50 percent of 2000 levels by 2030. We will also increase usage of renewable electricity to 50 percent.

A remarkable green recovery trend is taking place in the world. President Joe Biden called it "Build Back Better," advocating future-oriented economic recovery and the idea is spreading to major cities in Europe and the United States. I believe it is necessary to strengthen cooperation with cities around the world as we promote sustainable recovery.

In February, we held an online meeting to kick off this climate crisis action movement called, Sustainable Recovery: Time to Act. The event included Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles —currently the chair of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group —and former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, each of whom spoke about their determination to work toward decarbonization. As vice-chair of C40, I announced that we would develop climate action as a global movement.

I set out three action points for Tokyo.

First, as a large city, we need to make buildings zero-emission.

Tokyo first introduced its urban cap and trade system in 2010, ahead of the rest of the world. This is a landmark initiative requiring existing office buildings reduce the emissions they produce. Compared to our benchmark, annual emissions had already been reduced by 27 percent in 2018.

At the same time, we implemented a mandatory reporting system for energy data from more than 30,000 small and medium-sized enterprises.

In collaboration with businesses and financial institutions, we will further strengthen city policy so that environmentally friendly buildings will be evaluated more positively in terms of financing.

The second action point is called Green Hydrogen.

Tokyo is working toward the realization of a hydrogen-based society. During the Tokyo 2020 Games, hydrogen produced in Fukushima Prefecture using renewable energy will be used in parts of the Olympic and Paralympic village. Together with the other cities of the world, Tokyo will be laying the groundwork for full utilization of green hydrogen.

The third action is the revitalization of Green Finance. Tokyo began issuing Green Bonds in 2017, which were the first of their kind in Japan.

In 2019, we established the Tokyo ESG Fund and now we are working to establish the Sustainable Energy Fund, which will target projects such as renewable energy power plants, hydrogen stations and clean energy supply infrastructure. With these, we are working to bring about a Tokyo Green Finance Market.

National governments have an extremely important role to play in achieving a carbon-free society, and I am looking forward to seeing what is achieved at the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this year.

I was very happy to hear of Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's announcement in October of the country's new policy to reduce domestic emissions to net-zero by 2050.

It is time to act for all city leaders in contributing to zero emissions worldwide. This summer, as we host the long-awaited Tokyo 2020 Games safely and securely, our goal is for Tokyo to stand as a new model of social and economic sustainable recovery—to achieve a better recovery with climate change countermeasures.