OSAKA – Ready or not Osaka, here it comes. The Group of 20 Summit, that is.
In less than two weeks, one of the world’s largest gatherings of world leaders outside the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York takes place in Osaka. About 30,000 people, including leaders from over 30 countries and international organizations, their delegations and members of the media will be in town on June 28 and 29.
Much media attention is likely to focus on U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and their efforts to end a trade war. Will journalists, politicians and economists someday speak of the “Osaka Summit” as the moment when economic disaster was averted? Or, will the city’s name be forever associated with blunders and misunderstandings that set the world on the wrong path?
Answers to those questions will have to wait for history’s verdict. For now, Osaka’s leaders recognize they can do little more than work with the central government to ensure Trump, Xi and all dignitaries get in and out of Osaka without incident. Especially a terrorism-related incident.
To that end, a police presence of at least 25,000 is expected, but the final number may only be publicly known after it’s all over. Nine areas of Osaka will have heavy traffic restrictions from June 27 to 30. Access to train stations will be difficult. Roads will be temporarily blocked when the VIP motorcades get their police escorts to and from Kansai or Itami airports.
Needless to say, coin lockers and trash cans will be shut and many businesses will close. Foreign nationals in train stations with suitcases and backpacks may find themselves stopped by police and asked about the purpose of their Osaka visit.
Local media have spent a lot of time of late warning residents that the summit will greatly disrupt their daily lives. The impression one gets is that the G20 is a kind of international festival, but not one that will be much fun for the spectators.
However, there has been less talk about something far more important than whether Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui will chow down on takoyaki or yakisoba with Trump or the other leaders, or whether Osaka merchants will face delivery delays during the summit period.
Late last month, Matsui endorsed an international coalition of cities that are committing to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. He was joined by the mayors of Amsterdam, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Brussels, Chicago, Christchurch, Durban, Helsinki, Hamburg, Houston, Jakarta, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Montreal, New York, Paris, Port Vila, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Rotterdam, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Sydney, Tokyo and Tshwane.
This was one of many promises the mayors made to accelerate decarbonization efforts. Yes, it’s a bunch of local politicians making promises. Yes, without the right policy and legislative follow-up measures at the local and national levels now rather than later, it’s a goal that will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.
But it’s a sign of deeper changes in Japan and around the world. Cities like Osaka and Tokyo are not waiting on corrupt national politicians and bureaucrats in the pockets of the oil and fossil fuel corporate lobbies to go green. They are leading, not following, the shift to clean energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Is it enough to meet internationally agreed upon carbon reduction efforts? No, of course not. But Osaka can secure a positive legacy at the G20 Summit by reinforcing the message that denying climate change or repeating the coal industry’s mantra of “everybody wants to go green until they go brown” — warning about brownouts due to allegedly unstable renewable supplies — is bad politics and bad business at the local level, and is no longer in sync with the needs and desires of urban voters in Japan and elsewhere.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.