Local governments unite for climate action

The third and final thematic area I would like to address is how to catalyze momentum toward meeting the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to such global challenges as poverty, hunger, education and climate change. Among these, there has been important progress in establishing structures for international cooperation to combat climate change.

Last November, Syria, the last country to join the Paris Agreement on climate change, deposited its instrument of ratification with the UN. While the announced decision of the United States to withdraw remains a concern, the basic structure by which all states can collaborate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remains in place.

In recent years, many parts of the world have experienced extreme weather events, bringing home the reality that no place on Earth is safe from such threats. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of climate refugees driven from their homes by the ravages of drought, flooding and rising sea levels.   Estimates project that the number of environmental migrants could reach as many as one billion by2050, if present trends in global warming continue. [72]

The Paris Agreement offers a pathway for safeguarding the livelihoods and dignity of people from such threats. It also serves as the foundation for creating a sustainable society that we can pass on to future generations. Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, no country can withdraw until four years have passed from its entry into force, that is, before November 2020. It is strongly hoped that the United States will remain part of the agreement and will work with other countries to achieve its goals.

Combating climate change is certainly a thorny challenge; however, I take hope in the ambitious initiatives being undertaken by and among local governments. One example is the resolution adopted last year at the United States Conference of Mayors in which more than 250 mayors committed to procure 100 percent of the energy needs of their cities from renewable sources by 2035. [73] In Europe, Paris has announced plans to permit only electric vehicles within its limits by 2030, [74] while Stockholm has set the goal of becoming fossil fuel-free by 2040. [75] Further, in June last year, 140 mayors representing the world’s major cities issued the Montréal Declaration in which they expressed their determination to implement the Paris Agreement regardless of the international political context. [76]

These examples demonstrate the capacity of cities and municipalities to take effective action in a field where the perception of conflicting national interests has paralyzed governmental response to shared risk. They have recognized that supporting implementation of the Paris Agreement contributes directly to the protection of their citizens.

Germany’s Federal Environment Ministry has taken the lead in establishing partnerships on climate action among municipalities within the European Union, an example of efforts to share best practices and lessons learned. There is an urgent need to devise similar cooperative frameworks within the Northeast Asia region, which is responsible for large volumes of greenhouse gas emissions. To that end, I propose the establishment of a local government network for climate action between Japan and China, which together account for one-third of global heat-trapping gas emissions. [77]

In Japan, forward-looking action plans designed to combat climate change are being implemented in municipalities designated as “Future Cities” and “Eco-Model Cities.” In China, the world’s leading installer of solar power capacity, sources of renewable energy are being adopted widely in many communities.

One possible way to start the process of establishing this kind of Japan-China local government network for climate action would be to encourage municipalities in both countries that have already made important efforts in combating climate change to participate in the UN-led Climate Neutral Now initiative launched in 2015.

Partnerships for environmental protection have already been established between Tokyo and Beijing, Kobe and Tianjin as well as Kitakyushu and Dalian. By further fostering cooperative action among local authorities in areas such as technological collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and best practices, the two countries could create the foundation on which a broader regional framework could be built.

Today, the number of people traveling between Japan and China has reached almost 9 million per year [78] and sister-city agreements currently total 363. [79] As hard as it might be to imagine from today’s perspective, when I issued a proposal for the normalization of diplomatic ties between Japan and the People’s Republic of China in September 1968, almost half a century ago, relations between the two countries were tense enough to threaten what little trade existed between them, and merely to speak of bilateral friendship was to provoke harsh criticism. This was the context within which I made the following statement to a gathering of more than ten thousand students:

There are a number of issues that need to be resolved before full normalization of relations can take place. . . These are all complex issues, fraught with difficulty. And they cannot be solved without mutual understanding and deep trust between the two nations and most importantly, a shared aspiration for peace. . .

Whether as a state or as a people, in international society today, engaging purely in the pursuit of one’s own profit is no longer acceptable. It is surely by adopting a broad global perspective and by seeking to contribute to peace, prosperity and the advancement of culture, that we will prove our worth as a people in the coming century. [80]

In the intervening half-century, not only has China become Japan’s largest trading partner but Japan has also emerged as China’s second largest trading partner a#er the US. In the educational field as well, Chinese universities now represent the largest number of academic exchange partners for Japanese educational institutions. In 1975, Soka University, which I founded, was the first Japanese institute of higher education to welcome state-sponsored Chinese students coming to study in Japan following the normalization of bilateral relations. Today, there are more than 4,400 academic exchange agreements between Chinese and Japanese universities. [81]

In 1979, one year a#er the signing of the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship, a Japan-China youth friendship exchange program was launched, providing generations of young people annual opportunities to deepen friendship and mutual understanding. On a grassroots level, the Soka Gakkai sent a youth delegation to China for the first time in 1979 and has continued to conduct youthexchanges to the present. In 1985, our organization and the All-China Youth Federation signed an exchange agreement under which regular exchange programs have continued. The most recent such program took place in November 2017, when a Soka Gakkai youth delegation visited China, enhancing ties between the two countries.

In all these ways, bilateral exchanges have increased substantially, and cooperation in various spheres has been strengthened.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China. This presents an auspicious opportunity to build on the long-standing cooperation between the two countries and to forge stronger bonds. The best way to do this is through solidarity of action in service of the interests of Earth and humankind.

Climate action and sustainable cities are critical challenges for achieving the SDGs. It is thus my strong hope that China and Japan will work together to mobilize the innovative strengths and passions of their younger generations in the task of creating model responses to these challenges in ways that will resonate throughout Northeast Asia and the world.


Climate Neutral Now Initiative

Climate Neutral Now is an initiative launched by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that represents a global community of organizations committed to becoming climate Zeutral by the second half of the twenty-first century.
Centered around the three actions “Measure, Reduce and Offset,” the initiative encourages individuals and companies worldwide to calculate their climate footprint, lower their level of greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible and o运set what cannot be reduced with UN Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). The UN Climate Change secretariat invites organizations to take the Climate Neutral Now Pledge, joining a growing movement of companies and governments taking the lead in reducing emissions and contributing toa accelerating global progress to a climate-neutral future. The initiative began as a result of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the global agreement to combat climate change.

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