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Globally Resilient City Number 10: Tokyo

While we in North America are still waiting for a cap-and-trade system, cap-and-tax, or really anything to put some kind of price on carbon or incentive to reduce emissions, Tokyo is already taking positive strides.

Just last week I published the results of my research on what some of the top cities in the world are doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change. While the U.S. is stuck in bi-partisan bickering, and Canada is happy to do nothing while it waits for the U.S. to act, climate change is already wreaking havoc on communities around the globe from flooding to droughts and food insecurity. Rather than wait for federal and multi-lateral policy, thousands of cities around the globe have decided to step up.

Good timing, since cities have only recently achieved an important milestone -- more than 50 per cent of the world's population now lives in them (on their way to 60 per cent by 2030). And cities are where most of us live, transit, work, eat and play, which is why they account for nearly 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Luckily city leaders have numerous tools at their disposal that can help them mitigate and adapt to a changing climate. These include transportation policies and infrastructure, building codes, parks, land use planning, protection of nearby agricultural land, community gardens, energy policy, infrastructure and much more.

In this series, I will be reviewing best practices in mitigating and adapting to climate change in cities, also known as resilient cities, around the globe, starting with the top 10 cities from my global ranking. First up, Tokyo, coming it at number 10.

In order for cities to get past the first screen, they had to demonstrate a minimum amount of political commitment and leadership towards resiliency. In the case of Tokyo, that included having a published climate action plan (CAP). Tokyo is also a member of an elite group of megacities committed to combating climate change initiated by former president Bill Clinton, known as the C40.

Finally, Tokyo is a member of a global network of cities committed to sustainability known as ICLEI (more on them later). Naturally, fractions of the Tea Party oppose the ICLEI because it believes that ICLEI wants to force its agenda of sustainable, resilient cities on citizens around the globe. Heaven forbid our cities became more transit-oriented, less dependent on fossil fuels, more food secure and more resilient to climate change!

Speaking of transit, Tokyo is quite impressive. With a network of more than 280 stations and 14 lines, Tokyo's subway and metro system has an annual ridership of more than three billion trips! That puts them first in the world in overall trips and third per capita in my rankings.

Of course Tokyo, like all the other cities that made the ranking has much to improve upon, including the need to embrace more ambitious GHG reduction targets (currently their stated goal is a 25 per cent reduction of their own city operations by 2020). In comparison, Copenhagen, which scored top honours in this year's overall ranking, aspires to reach full community carbon neutrality by 2025.

Another area for improvement relates to climate adaptation. Recent research has found that many leading cities around the globe are starting to take positive action to reduce their carbon footprint but few cities are proactively working to flexibly adapt to a changing climate. Of the cities I studied in this research, Tokyo scored among the lowest in my rankings in its planning and actions to adapt to future impacts of climate change.

However one of the unique innovations coming from Tokyo was the introduction of their own emission trading system (ETS). This program requires the metropolitan area's 1,400 largest emitters to achieve a 6 per cent reduction in emissions by 2014. They can achieve this through a combination of process efficiencies, the purchase of renewable energy credits and offsets (maximum of one-third of the offsets can be sourced from projects outside the region).

So while we in North America are still waiting for a cap-and-trade, cap-and-tax, or really anything to put some kind of price on carbon or incentive to reduce emissions, Tokyo is already taking positive strides. One last positive, from my perspective at least, with respect to Tokyo's resilience efforts, is that the city is placing additional emphasis on encouraging profitable industry response, something I like to refer to as "climate capitalism." The first initiative in Tokyo's climate action plan is to "Promote private enterprises' efforts to achieve CO2 reductions." If cities are going to become resilient fast enough they will have to engage the private sector.

In the coming weeks and months I will be highlighting the remaining top 10 cities and best practices from around the globe. In the meantime, to learn more, please join ICLEI's President David Cadman and I for a webinar on resilient cities on July 13.

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