Tokyo Report

Urban Leaders Gather in Tokyo to Urge Climate Action

30 mayors and governors from around the world asked Prime Minister Abe to prioritize climate change at the June G-20 summit.

Daniel Hurst
Urban Leaders Gather in Tokyo to Urge Climate Action

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike presents the U-20 recommendations to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 22.

Credit: Tokyo Metropolitan Government/ Handout

Mayors from some of the world’s major cities have urged Group of 20 (G-20) leaders to embrace more ambitious action against climate change when they meet in Japan in June.

“Climate change is the most pressing challenge of the 21st century, not only because of the irreversible effects it has on ecosystems but also because of its impacts on livelihoods, resources and food security, displacement and social inequalities,” said a communique issued after the Urban 20 (U-20) Mayors’ Summit in Tokyo.

The joint statement, handed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on May 22, is intended to influence the talks at the forthcoming G-20 summit in Osaka. It was endorsed by the mayors and governors of 30 cities – including Berlin, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, New York, Osaka, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Sydney, and Tokyo – whose combined population is 126 million people. Abe has previously signaled that climate change would be one of the topics on the G-20 agenda.

The mayors and governors drew up, in effect, a blueprint for action. They called on G-20 countries to collaborate with cities on setting targets and developing pathways toward decarbonization by 2050 at the latest.

Endorsing the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 C – which warned of more severe impacts if the world reached warming of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the city leaders said the world needed clear pathways to achieve a peak in greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2020, with substantial reductions by 2030 and “net zero” emissions by 2050.

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The communique suggested that countries should scale up their Paris commitments. The “new and more ambitious” emission reduction pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), should “fully integrate the contributions of cities” and be announced in time for the UN climate summit expected to be held in late 2020. The Paris Agreement of 2015 specifically allowed for a “global stocktake” to occur in 2023 and every five years, providing a mechanism to scale up action.

The mayors and governors also called on the G-20 to work with local authorities on other actions, including:

  • Committing to decarbonizing the energy grid, with 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030, and 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.
  • Enacting national regulations or policies to ensure that new buildings operate at “net zero” carbon by 2030, and that all buildings do so by 2050, backed by a suite of incentives and programs.
  • Promoting research, development, and collaboration with suppliers, fleet operators, and businesses to speed up the transition to zero-emission vehicles.
  • Supporting cities’ efforts to expand use of zero-emission vehicles through emissions standards, incentive schemes, and charging infrastructure rollout.
  • Building and improving resilient infrastructure, decentralizing energy supply, increasing the use of renewable energy, conserving and restoring ecosystems, and developing sustainable food systems.
  • Phasing-out certain single-use and hard to recycle plastics and considering a new legally binding international agreement to deal with this issue.

Apart from the weighty recommendations on climate change, the communique also proposed actions on social inclusion and integration and sustainable economic growth.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who hosted the U-20 Mayors’ Summit and is a former environment minister, hand-delivered the recommendations to Abe immediately after the event. Koike emphasized the importance of involving cities in the G-20 process, saying that neither the Paris Agreement nor the Sustainable Development Goals would be realized without implementation of local policies.

Japan’s national government is currently in the process of developing its own long-term strategy on climate change, although environmentalist activists have complained that the draft version lacked ambition, as noted by The Diplomat in April. Abe has said that he wants Japan’s blueprint to be ready by the time the G-20 summit is held on June 28 and 29. The prime minister has also said that protecting the environment and achieving economic growth are not contradictory goals.

However, G-20 leaders will probably find it difficult to reach unanimity on climate change. The previous two G-20 summits had to find wording that took into account U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. The July 2017 summit in Hamburg, Germany, was held the month after Trump announced the move. The Leaders’ Declaration took “note” of the U.S. decision but said the leaders of all other G-20 members reaffirmed their commitment to the “irreversible” Paris Agreement. They settled on broadly similar wording after the summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in late 2018.