Copenhagen

Biodiversity Remakes Tokyo

The Huffington Post published my article entitled “Biodiversity Remakes Tokyo.” I will become a regular blogger, so if you like the article please leave a comment on the Huffington Post, post it to your Facebook account, or Tweet it to your friends. Thank you!

Here’s the first four paragraphs:

The Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference addresses unparalleled environmental crisis and the need to transform our relationship with nature. Many people assume that nature has no place in the city. On the contrary, cities are central sites for a sustainable, post-industrial era that supports population growth and a high quality of life. Biodiversity and urban forests can thrive with concrete and people.

Ordinary gardeners and environmental visionaries in Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis, are improving urban life for human and environmental benefit. While mainstream environmentalists work to save distant forests, urban innovators are creating new shared places that connect city residents to the environment and each other. Successful strategies include maximizing limited resources, engaging urban dwellers, and sharing daily life with plants and wildlife.

Tokyo’s size, density, lack of open space, and past policy failures paradoxically make it a model for rebuilding mature cities and designing hundreds of new cities. Along with climate change, the world faces unprecedented urbanization, reaching 60% of the world population or 5 billion people by 2030. African and Asian urban populations will double between 2000 and 2030.

To make cities sustainable and attractive, limited resources must be used for maximum benefit. Tokyo already offers vibrant and safe street life with relatively small private spaces. Because of usage fees and public investment, more daily trips are made by transit, walking and bicycling than automobile. And large numbers of often elderly residents tend gardens spilling out from homes into streets. With minimal horizontal area between homes, Tokyo residents are experts in blurring public and private spaces, and growing vertical gardens in even the narrowest openings.

Click to read the full story on the Huffington Post.

Corporate reaction to climate change

With the Copenhagen international climate conference approaching in December, the reaction of business leaders to climate change is becoming increasingly dynamic.

Recently California’s Pacific Gas and Electric, PG&E, resigned its membership in the United States Chamber of Commerce in protest of their positions on climate change and cap-and-trade proposals. Its spokesperson referred to its “disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort” scientific findings about global climate change. Other members such as Nike and Johnson & Johnson have tried to distance themselves from the Chamber’s environmental statements and activities.

In Japan, the nation’s most prominent business association, Keidanren, strongly supported the Liberal Democrat Party and their recent low carbon emissions targets. There seems to be considerable conflict with the current Democratic Party Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s ambitious goals of a 25% reduction in emissions, including technology transfers to developing countries.

I recently learned that there is a second business council in Japan called Keizai Doyukua (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), headed by the CEO of Ricoh, that is closer to the new prime minister and more open to the new global business opportunities that environmental regulation will bring. It is interesting to note which corporate executives Hatoyama recently appointed to the Government Revitalization Unit, a key committee on eliminating government waste: Kyocera Corp. Honorary Chairman Kazuo Inamori and Kikkoman Corp. Chairman Yuzaburo Mogi.

Olympic countdown

Olympic countdown

Yesterday in Roppongi’s Midtown, this well-dressed lady was promoting the countdown to the decision on the 2016 Olympic Games location. Tokyo is competing against Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Chicago. The lady’s digital sign, uniform, floral arrangement, and presence did not attract much attention in the busy shopping mall, and provided the uneasy spectacle of corporate boosterism without much popular interest.

The big decision day is October 2, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Given the ecological theme to Tokyo’s Olympic bid, what will happen to green city initiatives if another city is chosen? How can Tokyo and the Olympic promoters gain more interest from local residents? Is Olympic pride more or less difficult to instill in this megalopolis than passion for urban ecology?

Carbon reduction is electoral issue

Japan election results from 2005

Japan is entering a heated campaign for the Diet, and the Liberal Democrat Party ruling party faces a serious challenge that is unusual in the post-war period. The campaign by the main opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan, has largely revolved around  a broad call for “change,” while many observers have difficulty discerning differences in campaign promises or likely governing policies.

It is interesting to note that the opposition DPJ declared yesterday that they are committed to a 25% reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 (from 1990 levels),  in contrast to the LDP’s 8% target. Policies include a cap and trade policy, opposed by business, a “feed-in tariff” that obliges power companies to buy renewable energy at a fixed price, and the “consideration” of an environment tax.

Reaching agreement between advanced and emerging countries on 2020 targets is critical to the success of the upcoming UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. Some may be skeptical about whether electoral promises will be carried out. Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to see how much this issue resonates with the Japanese electorate and whether they will accept the price for environmental change.

(Note: The chart above shows the distribution of seats from the 2005 election).

Entering the Ecological Age

80% carbon reduction by 2050

Last week I heard Peter Head of ARUP present “Entering the Ecological Age,” the Brunel Lecture for the Institute of Civil Engineers. Director of ARUP’s “integrated urbanism” practice, Head focuses attention on the potential devastation of climate change and the role of cities in launching a new ecological era that uses renewable energy efficiently.

Head’s most sobering prediction is that by 2100 there is a 50% chance of earth temperature rising by more than 5 degrees celsius, which would lead to the end of human civilization.

Urban transit options

The solution is massive reduction in carbon dioxide by retrofitting old cities and building new ones organized around non-polluting transportation. Surpassed only by Australia, the US uses twice the energy per capita of Japan and Europe because of its reliance on the automobile as the primary transportation vehicle and the great distances between housing, work, schools and shopping.

I was interested in Head’s advocacy for “biomimicry.” Janine Benyus’ 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature lists ten principles include uses water as a resource, diversfty and cooperate, gather and use energy efficiently, optimise not maximise, use materials sparingly, clean up not pollute, do not draw down resources, remain in balance with the biosphere, run on information, and use local resources.

I also found it interesting that Head believes cities are the most dynamic and capable of meeting the challenges of the post-industrial age. He cites the work of C40 Cities as climate leaders. Some urban initiatives he cites are Seoul’s removal of a freeway above the Cheonggyecheon River, and Singapore’s introduction of dragonfly habitats to reduce mosquitoes and dengue fever.

Head advocates an 80% carbon reduction by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels), which will require massive change in advanced and developing countries. His work seeks to contribute to the 2009 COP 15 meeting in Copenhagen (Convention on Climate Change), the most important since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

You can download a lengthly PDF version of the talk on the ARUP website, and watch video of the lecture on a website called Resilient Futures.