Tokyo Declaration unites global cities against waste and pollution

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike announced Wednesday the adoption of the Tokyo Declaration, in which 22 megacities around the world committed to reducing waste and tackling air pollution by sharing technologies and knowledge.

The announcement came during the Tokyo Forum for Clean City and Clear Sky, a two-day symposium hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in Shinjuku Ward.

During the event, governors and officials from global cities such as Tokyo and Yokohama, as well as, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore, Sydney, Ulaanbaatar, Yangon and Durban, South Africa and Tomsk, Russia — exchanged information on recycling and waste management programs that had been implemented to address environmental issues.

All participants pledged to build better recycling systems, promote zero-emission vehicles in order to reduce air pollutants, and raise public awareness in cooperation with the private sector. These goals follow the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015.

“It is said the 21st Century is the century of the cities. Now, we have confirmed the Paris Agreement is active, and positive among cities, and sometimes cities can lead initiatives to make the central government go forward to build a sustainable world,” Koike said.

The central topics of discussion at the symposium were air pollution and food waste, along with cultivating circular economies for recycling, reducing, and reusing waste materials.

According to the World Health Organization, “More than 80 percent of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the WHO limits. While all regions of the world are affected, populations in low-income cities are the most impacted.”

According to C40 Cities, a network of 96 cities worldwide that are working together to address climate change, nine out of 10 people on Earth are currently breathing unhealthy air.

“The distributions of these impacts are not equal. More than 90 percent of the deaths due to pollution are currently occurring primarily in Africa and Asia,” said a C40 official at the symposium.

Among the biggest issues faced by the cities as they combat air pollutants is the lack of monitoring systems and data indicating the extent of their environmental problems. That is due to the high costs for such systems, according to C40.

“There are a number of new technologies out there that can improve cities’ access to data, but there aren’t always the means to finance those in the cities,” the official explained.

The official also said it is financially challenging to get politicians and stakeholders to accept binding agreements on climate change policies, such as banning diesel cars and accepting pricing strategies, due to the high cost of achieving such goals.

During the symposium Tokyo announced two strategic plans to tackle climate change as an Olympic and Paralympics hosting city.

One is the launch of Team Mottainai (Team Too Precious to Waste) by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which will bring together volunteers, nonprofit organizations and experts in climate issues to initiate a movement and propose holistic social approaches to tackle food waste and air pollution. The other plan is to increase the sales of zero-emission vehicles by 50 percent by 2030.

Koike noted that increasing such sales by 50 percent is a bold and challenging target, given that only 2.1 percent of the new cars sold in Tokyo are environmentally friendly. “We should not think whether it’s feasible, but rather focus on how we can make it possible by creating good conditions for that goal,” said Koike.

“By setting such a high target, Tokyo can play a role in leading both a country and the world … and we can pass that legacy to the Paris Olympics in 2024 and Los Angeles Olympiad in 2028.”