Asian Cities Take on Climate Change

By Christine Loh, Andrew Stevenson and Simon Tay

Everyone plays a role in affecting climate change. But a few major cities across Asia are leading the green way for combating the negative effects of overpopulation and pollution — by pledging to reduce emissions and create government policy in support of these environmental efforts. In this Globalist Bookshelf excerpt, Asia’s role in climate change negotiations is examined.

Tokyo and Seoul have emerged as the current Asian leaders in addressing climate change, with a strong push from their mayors and a commitment to taking greater action than their national governments.

Singapore is showing leadership on adaptation planning, and Dongtan and Baoding in China could serve as examples for transformative urban growth in Asia’s developing cities. Financial centers in Asia are also jockeying to stake their claims on the new carbon markets that have emerged in recent years.

Tokyo, Japan

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Climate Change Strategy includes several promising elements, including a target of reducing overall emissions by 25% between 2000 and 2020.

Asia’s financial centers are fighting for a piece of the carbon market pie which — although small today — is expected to grow substantially in the future.

Although per capita emissions are already low compared to other “world cities”, Tokyo believes it should be leading the national government — and thus has committed to taking greater measures. The basic policy is focused on promoting the use of best-available technologies — an area where Japan has a distinct advantage.

Tokyo is pushing voluntary efforts to reduce carbon emissions by business, industries and households. It has also committed to using government buildings to lead the way on green practices, and integrating climate change concerns into urban planning and transport decisions. Tokyo is also studying the implementation of a carbon tax, which may be implemented before the national government will take action.

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is also pursuing a strong environmental strategy as outlined in its climate change action plan. It has set a target of reducing emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 — while the South Korean national government has been slow to commit to a target.

However this is changing. South Korea announced at the Accra climate meetings in August 2008 that it plans to set a binding target for emissions and wants to act as a bridge between the developing and developed nations.

The plan

Seoul’s major strategies focus on transport, energy and waste management. Although the number of new vehicles is still a major concern, Seoul will replace all remaining buses with compressed natural gas vehicles by 2010.

Currently, 64% of Seoul’s waste is recycled for heat or power generation.

The municipal government has also set a target of 10% renewable energy use by 2020 — which it hopes to achieve in conjunction with the promotion of fuel cell and solar power industries.

Finally, they are cooling the city, reducing emissions, and creating public spaces by revitalizing dumps and brownfield sites as city parks. Currently, 64% of Seoul’s waste is recycled for heat or power generation.


Singapore announced its climate change action plan in February 2008 and is perhaps the most comprehensive in dealing with adaptation. This is not altogether surprising given the city’s long-standing concerns about water security since it has to import water from Malaysia.

The plan is linked with IPCC sea level rise predictions, requiring new reclamation projects to exceed even the worst-case scenario in height. The Public Utilities Board is also developing more effective drainage infrastructure, requiring low-lying areas to be raised with re-development, and is studying the need to further protect coastlines.


Dongtan — which has been designed as a low-carbon city — is being built on a rural island off the coast of Shanghai. The aim is to receive 10,000 residents by 2010, 80,000 by 2020 and 500,000 by 2050.

Tokyo’s basic environmental policy is focused on the use of best-available technologies — an area where Japan has a distinct advantage.

Overall, the plan calls for this small city to use 64% less energy than a typical city through a full range of sustainability initiatives. These gains will primarily be achieved by using the best available technologies and ideas in buildings, energy, transport and urban planning.

Dongtan is also an experiment in realizing economic and social sustainability by creating mixed-use communities and jobs for people of all income levels. Baoding is another city in China that is making extensive use of renewable energy and seeking to serve as a sustainable, green model for the rest of the country.

A piece of the pie

Asia’s financial centers are fighting for a piece of the carbon market pie which — although small today — is expected to grow substantially in the future.

Singapore has set up the Asia Carbon Exchange, and Mumbai’s Multi Commodity Exchange is launching futures trading in carbon.


In August 2008, the China Beijing Equity Exchange and the Shanghai United Assets and Equity Exchange separately announced they would conduct carbon trading.

Tokyo plans to reduce overall emissions by 25% between 2000 and 2020.

Tianjin had already announced a partnership with the Chicago Climate Exchange. Hong Kong’s stock exchange also announced that it is considering launching Certified Emissions Reduction credits trading in 2009.

And Tokyo will no doubt play an important role should Japan switch from its current voluntary pledges for emissions reduction from industry to a mandatory cap-and-trade scheme.

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