Local government-level initiatives in Asian countries and worldwide have recently been making progress in improving the environment. The city of Kitakyushu’s campaign to improve the environment in Surabaya, Indonesia, is regarded as an outstanding example, attracting a continuous stream of visitors from other Asian countries. Renowned for some of the most progressive environmental initiatives in Japan, Kitakyushu was selected as a model city for green growth for the "Green Cities Programme"sponsored by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This month we interviewed Kengo Ishida about the city’s recent activities in Asia.

Kitakyushu’s Transformation

--- How has Kitakyushu been involved in Asian countries to date?

Kitakyushu developed as the birthplace of modern steelmaking in Japan and as a centre for the heavy and chemical industries. The city suffered severe pollution during Japan’s period of rapid economic growth following the Second World War. During the 1960s the region recorded the worst air pollution in Japan, and the Dokai Bay became a "Sea of Death" where fish could no longer live. However, subsequent joint action by residents, companies and the local government resulted in rapid improvements, and the city’s environment had been turned around by the 1980s.

Spurred by a desire to prevent developing nations following the same path, the City of Kitakyushu has made use of the skills and experience it gained in the process of overcoming its own pollution and has started cooperating internationally on environmental issues. Since 1980 the city has received 7,059 trainees from 146 countries, most of whom have an interest in the environmental management. The city has also implemented a diverse range of environmental improvement projects in cities across Asia.

One typical example is the waste management project launched in 2004 in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city with a population of three million. The project entailed proactive steps to encourage residents to compost the organic matter that comprises over half of Surabaya’s total waste. As a result of the project, more than 20,000 households now have composting baskets and more households are separating their rubbish into different types, leading to a reduction of over 30% in annual volume of household waste. The project has also brought other benefits, including the greening of parks and streets using the organic waste-based compost and creation of employment opportunities at composting centres.

Tackling Environmental Issues

--- In light of these activities, what is Kitakyushu’s current approach to environmental issues?

In 2008, the Japanese government designated Kitakyushu an Eco-Model City, and the city responded by setting itself the goal of dramatically reducing CO2 emissions—not only its own, but those elsewhere in Asia too. In order to achieve its goal, the city collaborated with IGES Kitakyushu Urban Centre to open the Kitakyushu Asian Center for Low Carbon Society in June 2010. The latter’s activities include training specialist personnel and conducting investigative research, primarily to help export environmental technologies. The city focused on this business-based approach because utilising the dynamism of the private sector seemed likely to ensure sustainability. However, local governments play a major role in environmental business due to legal regulations and the permits and approvals required. This presents hurdles for private enterprises seeking to develop such businesses on their own, and is why Kitakyushu is taking advantage of the links it has already forged with other cities to join forces with their local governments, establishing a platform that makes it easier for private enterprises to operate.

However, emerging and industrialising nations with future development potential need more than just technology and plant imports; they need "green cities" concept that combine a range of urban infrastructure improvements with environmental technologies. That is why Kitakyushu is aiming to build on its relationship of trust with Surabaya to turn the city into a model for exported urban environmental infrastructure. The plan is to use Surabaya to showcase all aspects of a model "green city", starting with a "smart" industrial complex relying on cogeneration, supported by a range of other initiatives including waste and effluent treatment and purification of tap and well water.

Achievements and Contributions

--- Looking back now at the initiatives Kitakyushu has pursued with such commitment, what do you think has been achieved, and how have people’s lives benefited?

In the past three years, the Kitakyushu Asian Center for Low Carbon Society has implemented 37 projects in 21 Asian cities with the participation of 21 companies.

An issue of particular concern has been the fact that in the parts of Surabaya unreached by the composting project, household waste passing through the 170 temporary disposal sites is simply dumped in the open and left untreated at final disposal areas. In both the temporary and final disposal sites, wastepickers make a living by collecting resources of value such as plastics and metals, but it is a terrible working environment and a very inefficient way to recover resources.

Fortunately, Kitakyushu’s Nishihara Corporation was able to obtain financial backing from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to build a recycling-based intermediate waste treatment centre at one of the temporary disposal sites. The company is currently working with wastepickers to recycle plastics and metals safely and efficiently, as well as implementing a pilot scheme to make compost from organic waste. This will enable the volume of waste discarded in final disposal areas to be reduced by over 80%, in addition to ensuring continued employment for the wastepickers. The ceremony to open the intermediate waste treatment centre, held in March 2013, was attended by Indonesia’s environment minister, who praised the project and commented that he would like to see such centres built throughout Indonesia.

As we continue to pursue international environmental initiatives based on private-sector business as well as public-sector cooperation, we will aim to promote uniquely Japanese methods unlike those in other countries, methods that we hope will earn both gratitude and respect from residents in the regions they target.

--- Thank you very much.

Further information regarding low-carbon cities and Kitakyushu’s initiatives will be presented at the International Forum for Sustainable Asia and the Pacific (ISAP2013) to be held in Pacifico Yokohama. The relevant session, entitled "Potential of City-to-city Cooperation for Low-carbon Development in Asia: A Case of the Cooperation between Surabaya City and Kitakyushu City" will be held on Wednesday 24 July 2013 in the morning. Please refer to //www.iges.or.jp/isap/2013/en/index.html for programme details, and for the application procedure.
About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES released "Top News on the Environment in Asia" on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, "Top News" collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

Go to top of page