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How Climate Change Will Impact Japan

SNA (Tokyo) — Japan is facing the disastrous impact of climate change. Shingetsu News Agency spoke with representatives from the World Wildlife Fund and the Asian institute of Management about the threat of global warming.

Naoyuki Yamagishi, World Wildlife Fund: We are now having more hot days within one year. We also have increasing heat strokes in ordinary people’s lives.

Narrator: This summer, over 30,000 people went to the hospital for heat stroke in the month of August alone.

Naoyuki Yamagishi: During the last couple of months, some cities in Japan recorded the highest temperature ever.

Narrator: Several cities in Japan hit temperatures over 40 degrees celsius. Such as Kumagaya, Saitama, which hit 41.1 degrees. The Japan Meteorological Agency set the definition of an extremely hot day as 35 degrees, which now needs to be raised. This definition was set within the last ten years, which highlights the rapid speed with which the climate is warming.

Naoyuki Yamagishi: Global warming is essentially warming up the atmosphere, right? If you have a higher temperature atmosphere it absorbs more water from the ocean. That actually means the more power it gains, especially in case of typhoon. We are increasingly having heavy rains these days. Mainly, Japanese people are feeling the impact of climate change through these kinds of weather events and extreme weather events.

Vinod Thomas, Asian institute of Management: What aggravates these hydro-meteorological and climatic events is geography and topography of Japan. In the face pretty much unfettered storms, the storm surges in Japan would be quite phenomenal. Being a relatively small place in terms of the population being high, the density of population also plays a role in making that same exposure. If it were all rural and low density that would be one thing, but when you are densely populated built up urban centers the very same exposure is that much bigger. So for those reasons, the exposure for Japan would be on the high side on a scale.

Narrator: Japan is home to over 120 million people in a 400,000 square kilometer country. That’s one third of the US population in an area smaller than California. A typhoon hitting a relatively small area in Japan can affect a massive number of people, especially in urban centers. Increasingly powerful typhoons are bringing flooding to unexpected areas.

Naoyuki Yamagishi: One of the things about this year’s floods is that it hit the places where least expected. That’s why we had more than two hundred people died because of the floods.

Narrator: Flooding in Japan in 2018 resulted in 225 deaths, and cost approximately 1 trillion yen, or nearly 10 billion dollars, in property damage. Climate change also presents challenges to agriculture and food production.

Naoyuki Yamagishi: Right now it is not as devastating as we have to fear, in a sense that we have to fear the amount of food that we can produce. But the quality of the food, the quality of the rice is definitely getting hit.

Narrator: Two primary staples of the Japanese diet are fish and rice. Traditionally, the best rice is grown in the northwest of Japan, such as in Niigata prefecture. Now, rising temperatures are pushing the optimal range for rice production north to Hokkaido, which is bad for the northwest, and not necessarily good for Hokkaido.

Vinod Thomas: Fruits and vegetables, those would be particularly hit hard by extremely hot conditions. Hokkaido is like a breadbasket, it’s like a storehouse of agriculture. Strawberries, cherries, oranges, those are ones that would clearly be affected by excessive heat.

Narrator: While rice production may flourish, the existing produce industry will suffer. Japan’s fishing industry, another major part of the country’s food economy, is also being affected by climate change.

Naoyuki Yamagishi: The fishery industry is another industry which has been experiencing a huge effect, huge impact from the climate change. Because of the rising temperature of the ocean, apparently some of the species behavior has changed. So fisherman can not expect their score in the same timing of the same year. It’s very devastating for them to continue their fisheries. That affects of course the prices of the fish and affects the households too. So that’s something feared among the fishermen and in the fishery industry.

Narrator: Japan is starting to feel the worst of the physical and economic damage caused by climate change, but the Abe government is not taking the threat seriously.

Naoyuki Yamagishi: Japan, the Japanese government is not doing really great. I really hope that the Japanese government is rising up to this challenge and have the guts to say that we as the Japanese people will not tolerate this problem. We’re going to work on this problem seriously. We’ve got to revise our current climate target, which is not really enough to achieve the Paris Agreement. We’re going to do that, and next year Japan is going to host G20 in front of the international society. I really wanted the Japanese government to say that, out loud, to the international society.

Narrator: While it is important for Japan to take on this issue globally, people should think about how it affects them locally.

Vinod Thomas: Thinking of it as global is the reason why actions are usually not taken. When you think of it as local, which it is already, and now as opposed to fifty years from now, that changes the pressure to act. Changing mindsets is the bottom line, even if political actions have to follow and economic policies have to be done, they all spring from mindsets. When people think of it as local and now, that makes a huge difference.

Narrator: Thinking locally will make people more passionate about climate issues, and it will motivate them to vote for politicians who also care about protecting the environment.

Naoyuki Yamagishi: There are a lot of course lots off politicians who are trying to do the right thing about climate change, but they don’t get selected because of the climate change. If they don’t get selected by that, they stop doing that. So, you really have to make a choice. It’s not easy, and it’s not always the most important thing for voters, but once in a while you really have to care about it. The company you choose, the politician you choose, those people are the ones who really want to protect the climate or not.

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