Can Tokyo clean its bay?

Kiara writes*

While some argue that “sustainable development” is an oxymoron, Tokyo is trying to deliver. In March 2021, the governor of Tokyo, Koike Yuriko, announced a set of projects aligned with the UN’s SDG goals.

The Tokyo Bay eSG project strives to build within an ESG (environment, sustainability, governance) framework. This project will create a new city that combines “convenience” and “nature” on reclaimed land, currently used for garbage processing (Tokyo Metropolitan Government, 2021).

Residents are relieved that Tokyo’s government is finally focusing on the health of the Tokyo Bay. The last 100 years have given rise to various environmental concerns such as decreasing biodiversity and water pollution. To overcome such issues, the eSG project intends to generate no waste and no emissions by relying solely on hydrogen energy.

The most ambiguous aspect of this project is its implementation of completely new technologies, digital transformation and innovations by domestic and international startups. Trash-collecting robots, for example, will help create a “swimmable Tokyo Bay.”

Tokyo Bay’s future?

While some are excited about the futuristic technology, marine environment researcher, Okada Tomonari, emphasizes that a sustainable city does not end with the creation of new wetlands, or cleaning robots (Giseburt, 2023). The battle to save Tokyo Bay while improving residents’  lives needs constant attention, learning and monitoring social and environmental impacts. It is too early to dismiss long-run dangers facing Japan.

This project must succeed if Japan will meet UN goals, restore hope in sustainable development, and reverse Japan’s stagnation, inequality, and climate crises. If it does, then I will be able to swim in Tokyo Bay by 2100!

Bottom Line: Tokyo’s Metropolitan Government says the eSG Project can solve environmental concerns while delivering growth, but its reliance on technology may put those goals beyond reach.

* Please help my Real Donut Economics** students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

** Why “Real”? In short, because (a) Raworth’s claims to being a “21st century economist” denies that all of her ideas were presented by others in the 20th century and (b) she presents no viable mechanisms (besides “be nice”) for achieving equality and sustainability. My students are more realistic. In long? Read this.

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

8 thoughts on “Can Tokyo clean its bay?”

  1. Thank you for your blogpost Kiara, it was very interesting to read. When I was thinking of Tokyo (and Japan in general), I was wondering how Japan’s ageing population was related to this project. Is Tokyo expanding to the point where they require new space for new people, or is this project aimed at making the quality of life better for the current residents of Tokyo. Is this project even necessary if Japan’s population might _decrease_ in the near future?

    1. Hey Kiara, great blogpost! I think the most important question about the potential sustainability of these projects come from whether the energy transformation from renewable energy sources will happen sooner or later. Imagine if nuclear fusion would have been a reality by the time this project is being build. Probably not gonna happen but I think it’s one of the most important variables when it comes to sustainable development with mega projects like this one. What do you think would be the possible energy transition scenarios that would make this project sustainable?

      1. Hi Kiara, nice blogpost! It sounds like the Tokyo government is putting in great effort into cleaning the bay. The investments in advanced technological solutions is an end-of-pipe approach which made me wonder whether the government is considering any preventive measures or trying to ignite the collective dedication to cleaning the bay? As you mention, sustainability efforts require holistic solutions, and they might also require preventive measures to be successful in cleaning the bay and maintaining the bay’s health in the long run.

        1. Yes, I also found the reliance on certain technologies odd, especially hydrogen, when it seems unclear why other renewable energy sources would not be applicable in this instance. There is a concerning degree of ‘White Elephant’ language being used to describe the project it seems. If the timeline is completion by 2100, perhaps the futurism is more realistic but in that case it seems unclear why particular future technology has already been selected when their relative prices and efficiencies are unknown.

          1. Hi Kuba! Thanks for the comment! Would love some more clarity of why you might find hygrogen odd? Also, I think it may also be useful to mention that this project is not one which ends when 2100 hits. It is a continuous project, just as we constantly alter things in other cities today. It is not meant to be a singular monument, but a livable, functional, efficient city.

        2. Thank you Alice! Your point is definitely an important one to consider. Although not specifically enforced, I am aware that the government has recommended to various junior high schools and high schools to implement a curriculum which teaches students more on climate and sustainability. As this was quite recent, the effects of this small change in education is still not so clear, but hopefully, this will help individuals to take more holistic approaches in the future!

      2. Thanks for the comment Filip! I am a little bit lost of what exactly you are asking me, but I think it is to be made clear that this project is completely independent from any other energy transitions in Japan. To clarify, even if the Tokyo metropolitan city still relies on fossil fuels, this new city is to be built relying on renewable energy sources using hydrogen.

    2. Great questions Max! From the research I’ve seen so far, the project is aimed at increasing quality of life, and finding ways to create completely renewable energy dependent cities. As this is an incredibly long term project, the notion seems that as Japan addresses their population issue, they also address their energy issue. Either way, even if there are not enough people to fill the homes of this new city, I can imagine it would still become a very large commercial hub.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *