National | KANSAI PERSPECTIVE

Japan’s Kansai region abuzz over chance to host G-20 and climate gatherings in 2019

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

2018 has just begun, but Osaka and Kyoto are already looking ahead to 2019, when the prospect of hosting two major international conferences has the local political and business circles excited.

One of the big 2019 events is the Group of 20 summit. Following media reports at the start of the year suggesting good news, it is widely expected here that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will choose Osaka.

The two-day event will likely draw tens of thousands of people, including 20 world leaders ranging from U.S. President Donald Trump to Chinese President Xi Jinping, to the city and the Kansai region, to discuss a gamut of issues from North Korea to climate change.

While not yet official, leaders have expressed quiet confidence over the past few weeks they will win the event thanks to a series of circumstances that pushed Osaka to front-runner status.

Last year, Aichi Prefecture said it wanted to host the G-20 at a soon-to-be-completed facility beside Chubu Centrair International Airport, which sits on an artificial island about 30 minutes by train from Nagoya Station. Aichi sold its bid as one with security advantages and convenience: Arrive at the airport and be escorted just across the tarmac to the venue. Less hassle for security forces. And though it went unsaid, there is also less of a chance of being embarrassed by international TV footage of protesters who could sneak past security to get close to a venue located in downtown Nagoya.

As late as November, some Osaka leaders had been wondering about the political edge of Aichi. Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman emeritus of Aichi-based Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), is a close friend of Abe and one of the most ardent supporters of the maglev shinkansen project, which the company hopes to sell abroad. What better opportunity to advertise a magnetically levitated train than at a G-20 meeting in Aichi?

But by December, the political winds were shifting. Allegations of bid-rigging for maglev-related work surfaced, and the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office is now looking into the case. With the Diet due to open Monday, grilling by the opposition camp over the probe is all but certain.

So there are now questions in Osaka about whether the city became the reported favorite to host the G-20 partially because Abe wanted to avoid media and opposition party speculation that awarding the G-20 to Aichi would be linked to his relationship with Kasai or the maglev project.

For Osaka’s politicians, though, the biggest perceived advantage to hosting the G-20 summit has to do with its lobbying for another international event. The thinking is that an Osaka G-20 will provide a much-needed international public relations boost to Osaka’s bid for the 2025 World Expo, given that the Paris-based organization will choose the winner in November.

“It’s not officially decided yet, but hosting the G-20 raises the city’s value and name recognition. It would help make our case for the expo bid and provide members of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) with material that shows Osaka can host international conferences like the G-20,” Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui said late last month.

Beyond the political factors, there appear to be more solid reasons for Osaka’s front-runner status in the G-20 race: logistics. Osaka has more international luxury hotels than Aichi, including about 500 suite rooms. The proposed venue, near Osaka Bay and about 30 minutes from central Osaka, has vehicle and train access. But there may be a slight bump in the road as the central government is citing some security concerns with the venue.

The other major 2019 event on the Kansai calendar will take place in Kyoto. In mid-May, representatives of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, are scheduled to meet in Japan. The meeting of the IPCC, whose reports form the basis of United Nations climate change talks, will be held at the same venue where the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997.

The Environment Ministry, following a long lobbying campaign by the city of Kyoto, said earlier this month that the ancient capital was its choice.

“We have decided to recommend Kyoto as the host site. In addition to the presence of the international conference hall and having good (transport) access, Kyoto has hosted international conferences and symposiums related to climate change and is the home of the Kyoto Protocol,” Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa said in a Jan. 12 news conference.

The IPCC’s job is to review and assess the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic information regarding the impacts of climate change. While it does not conduct original research, it acts as an international clearinghouse for U.N. policymakers and its predictions are based on the conclusions of thousands of scientists worldwide.

The IPCC has warned that if policies to combat climate change are not strengthened, the world’s average temperature could rise by up to 4.8 degrees C by the end of this century, compared with the average for the 20th century. At a U.N. conference in Paris in 2015, the international community agreed to work to limit the rise to 2 degrees.

The panel’s meeting in May 2019 is expected to be a continuation of studies on the effects of climate change on oceans, as well as the relationship between climate change and desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes. Final reports on these issues will be issued by September that year.

“There is a high interest among Japanese people, especially in Kyoto, about climate change issues and what policies are needed to mitigate them. Hosting the IPCC conference in 2019 will show Kyoto’s continuing commitment to the spirit of the Kyoto Protocol,” Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa said at a meeting last month to mark the 20th anniversary of the protocol.

Kansai Perspective appears on the fourth Monday of each month, focusing on Kansai-area developments and events of national importance with a Kansai connection.