by Nov 17, 2023 – Original article can be found here.|
On November 15, 2023, an important step towards reducing worldwide carbon emissions was made at the 12th Asia Smart City Conference as the joint declaration, “Yokohama Declaration: Asian Cities Together Towards Zero Carbon”, was announced, being proposed by Yokohama City, Japan and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, Thailand, and welcomed by 43 participating cities and organizations across Asia. The joint declaration aims to realize a sustainable and resilient zero-carbon future, using Bangkok’s and Yokohama’s declarations to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 as models, and calls for collaboration between all the participating cities to learn from each other’s best practices and work together towards reducing carbon emissions.
“Decarbonization” was the theme of the 12th Asia Smart City Conference (ASCC), hosted in November 2023 in Yokohama in conjunction with the Y-SHIP Convention. This ASCC featured many diverse sessions across various fields, including public-private policy dialogues and more, conducted by the World Bank Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC), the Asian Development Bank/Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), CityNet, Smart City Institute Japan (SCI-J), Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), Yokohama Urban Solution Alliance (YUSA), Yokohama City University, and the City of Yokohama.
In the Joint Declaration session, these various organizations lent their support for the declaration led by the Mayor of Yokohama and the Governor of Bangkok, with messages from Yutaka Matsuzawa, Vice-Minister for Global Environmental Affairs, Ministry of the Environment, Japan; Ming Zhang, Practice Manager for Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience, and Land in the East Asia and Pacific region, World Bank; F. Cleo Kawawaki, Head of the Office of Markets Development and Public-Private Partnership, Asian Development Bank; and Naoko Ueda, Head of the OECD Tokyo Centre.
The Mayor of Yokohama, Takeharu Yamanaka, commented on the declaration during his opening remarks for the session as a board member of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and a member of the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth, hitting on the need for change and collaboration. “In order to build a future for sustainable, resilient cities, our entire economic and social system must undergo a green transformation. In order to confront the challenges impacting us both on a global and personal level, such as decarbonization, it is necessary for the world’s cities to collaborate with international organizations, the private sector, and each other,” Mayor Yamanaka stated. He highlighted Yokohama’s history of collaborating with cities in Asia, mentioning Bangkok, Cebu, Da Nang, Fiji, and several cities in Indonesia to complete urban development projects. “Now is the time for cities to take the lead in mobilizing Asia and the world to confront global challenges.”
Following the remarks from the Mayor of Yokohama, the Governor of Bangkok, Chadchart Sittipunt, further emphasized the importance of collaboration. “We cannot tackle [greenhouse gas emission] alone. We have to work together to solve this tragedy. The reason for being here is not only attending the conference but to prevent the tragedy of humankind.” He concluded the speech by noting the significance of ASCC as a knowledge-sharing platform. “I would like to thank the City of Yokohama and everyone involved for bringing us together so that we can collaborate, and we can share information and inspiration.”
During Japan’s rapid economic growth in the 1950s-1970s, Yokohama City faced various urban challenges such as waste management, traffic congestion, environmental degradation, water resources, and a shortage of public land. The city was able to overcome these challenges by implementing key urban infrastructure projects, focusing on control (regulation and guidance of urban use) and urban design, including strengthening the city center and constructing transportation networks.
Many cities in Asia are currently facing similar urban challenges due to their own rapid economic growth and population increases. The Asia Smart City Conference was initiated by Yokohama City in 2012 as a platform for discussing these challenges and sharing experiences and potential solutions with other Asian cities to achieve sustainable and smart cities. The concept of this conference gained support from Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), and since 2017, ADB and ADBI, along with the World Bank TDLC, have been co-organizers. While ASCC had been held online since the pandemic, this year saw a return to in-person meetings; the 12th convening brought leaders and senior officials from 43 cities and organizations across Asia and beyond, including ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam, together to Yokohama after four years of virtual proceedings.
Yokohama City and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration have a long history of collaborating on sustainability, having signed a memorandum of cooperation in 2013 aiming for environmentally conscious sustainable urban development. The two cities have since continued technical cooperation, especially in the area of decarbonization. Both cities have declared prior goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, Yokohama in 2018 and Bangkok in 2021, establishing themselves as leading cities in the pursuit of decarbonization in Asia.
The text of the declaration states, “We, the cities of Asia, commend each other for overcoming the challenges of city management amidst the COVID pandemic. We have once again gathered at the Asia Smart City Conference in Yokohama. Here, we declare our solidarity to co-create a sustainable and resilient zero-carbon future. This commitment stems from the valuable experiences of each city overcoming urban issues such as environmental pollution and transportation problems. Through diverse policy approaches, we improve the quality of life for our citizens. Participating cities will share, learn from one another, innovate with the private sector, and grow together.”
The Joint Declaration itself is a commitment on three major points:
- Sustainable and Resilient Urban Development: Participating cities commit to integrate green infrastructure and renewable energy, enhancing resilience and reducing carbon footprint for current and future generations.
- Community Engagement and Capacity Building: Participating cities will emphasize community involvement and capacity building, nurturing a sense of shared responsibility and fostering corporations and individuals for a zero-carbon urban future.
- Inclusive and Citizen-centric Approach: Participating cities will ensure inclusivity, respect diversity, and focus on the well-being of all citizens in the design, planning, and management of our cities.
These goals align with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and mark an important step toward more cities across Asia making the next steps toward formal declarations of carbon neutrality, as Bangkok, Yokohama, and many more cities have done and are working towards.
The potential role of cities in climate change is significant: according to UN Habitat, cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions, despite accounting for less than 2% of the Earth’s surface. As such, it is crucial to make sure cities around the world are involved with the effort to reduce carbon output, despite issues stemming from rapid industrialization. With this aim in mind, Yokohama City and Bangkok have collaborated again to helm the “Yokohama Declaration: Asian Cities Together Towards Zero Carbon” alongside the other participating cities, with the hope of expanding actions toward decarbonization among even more cities across Asia, creating a platform and opportunity for more cities in Asia to uplift and support one another in a domino effect, toward the common cause of reducing our carbon output and enriching our world.