Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike vows a greener city for the 2020 Olympics and beyond

Governor Yuriko Koike addressing the first Tokyo Forum For Clean City And Clear Sky, a two-day conference that brought together city mayors and environment leaders from 22 cities.
Governor Yuriko Koike addressing the first Tokyo Forum For Clean City And Clear Sky, a two-day conference that brought together city mayors and environment leaders from 22 cities.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Tokyo has come a long way from the 1970s, when the environment was an afterthought during the economic boom, and the city was marred by landfills and poor air quality, Governor Yuriko Koike said on Tuesday (May 22).

The landfill area in the Japanese capital has shrunk to barely a seventh of its size since then and the air quality has improved drastically, with Mount Fuji visible from Tokyo for more than 100 days a year. But Ms Koike told a forum in English: "We're not satisfied. We're determined to make Tokyo a more sustainable city by tackling issues we still face."

These issues include reducing waste and carbon emissions, said Ms Koike, who served as Environment Minister from 2003 to 2006 and continues to count the environment as her pet cause.

She was addressing the first Tokyo Forum For Clean City And Clear Sky, a two-day conference that brought together city mayors and environment leaders from 22 cities, including Singapore's National Environment Agency chief executive Ronnie Tay.

Mr Tay told the forum that Singapore, which marks 2018 as its Year of Climate Action, will present its progress in implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) - a set of 17 goals relating to such issues as hunger, poverty, education and health - in a voluntary national review in July.

He said Singapore has embraced green technology to overcome its lack of space, including floating solar panels on some of its reservoirs.

In taking a long-term view, Mr Tay said: "This balances our competing land use needs, allowing us to safeguard green spaces, consider environment protection early in our planning and put in place the key infrastructure."

On Tuesday, Ms Koike also laid out her vision for Tokyo, a densely-populated hub with an area and a population about three times of Singapore's. The Japanese capital trashes 300,000 tonnes of perfectly edible food a year, a figure Ms Koike hopes to slash by half by 2030.

By the same year, at least 50 per cent of all new vehicles sold should have zero emissions, she said, adding that Tokyo will introduce electric motorcycles to its emergency fleet that provides first-aid during large-scale sporting events. Each year, the Japanese capital hosts the Tokyo Marathon - one of the six World Marathon Majors - and will host the Rugby World Cup next year and the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

Tokyo has also issued green bonds in the first such initiative nationwide, so as to promote financing for environmental measures.

As Tokyo Governor, Ms Koike has in some instances pursued far stricter legislation than the national government. One such instance is the city's anti-smoking laws.

While the national government caved to strong opposition from tobacco and restaurant lobby groups earlier this year, in backpedalling from its earlier plan for a blanket ban on indoor smoking in all public spaces, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government still wants to push through a complete ban.

Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark in her keynote address also alluded to how cities can fill the void left in national governance. She said: "Even where nation states may fail, cities are leading the way on climate action."

"The old ways of development, which we pursued at almost any price to the health of people and the environment, have to end," she said. "We now need inclusive and sustainable development, which advances human well-being and doesn't widen the inequalities of our societies and ruin our environments any further."