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Interest in climate change ebbs

by Takamitsu Sawa

This summer is unusual. There have been many ultra-hot days in which the mercury has risen above 35 degrees Celsius. Cloudbursts have occurred frequently, while some areas are suffering from extremely low precipitation, creating fears of water shortages.

Such abnormalities do not appear to be limited to Japan. Heat waves are said to have hit Europe and China for many days.

The 14th Group of Seven Summit, in Toronto (June 1988), marked the first time when problems related to global warming were taken up at an international forum. At a multinational meeting on the global environment that took place a week later in Toronto under the Canadian government’s sponsorship, conferees heard a shocking simulation-based report that if carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions continued to rise at the then prevailing rate, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere would double by the end of the 21st century, raising the ground-level temperature by 3 degrees and elevating sea levels by 60 cm.

Subsequently, in June 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

At the third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP3) in Kyoto in December 1997, an agreement was adopted to reduce the annual average emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs, which include not only CO2 but also methane and substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons) by all of the industrialized countries by at least 5 percent from the 1990 levels in the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. As a means of attaining this goal, each of the 40 advanced nations was allocated a numerical reduction ratio.

Interest in climate change peaked in 2007 after the publication of “An Inconvenient Truth,” a book written by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and release of a movie with the same title, both of which educated citizens about climate change.

Between January and April 2007, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fourth report. Its main points were that the impact of global warming would result in rising temperatures and changes in precipitation in the medium to long term, and in more frequent and intensified climate change in the short term. Therefore, the impact would not only be felt by future generations but was already being felt by the current generation; and that it was “very likely” that the warming and climate change were caused by the rising concentration of CO2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere. The Nobel Peace Prize for that year was awarded to the IPCC and Gore.

Presumably with this global trend in mind, Shinzo Abe in his first stint as prime minister surprised the participants of an international symposium on the future of Asia by declaring in his opening speech on May 24, 2007, that by the year 2050, the world’s total GHG emissions should be halved from the level prevailing at the time.

At a U.N. summit meeting on climate change on May 24, 2009, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pledged to the world that by 2020 Japan would reduce its GHG emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels.

“The Basic Energy Plan,” released by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in June 2010, stated that in order to achieve the target set out in the Hatoyama initiative, it would be “necessary” to raise Japan’s dependence on nuclear power in its total electricity generation to 41 percent in fiscal 2019 and to 53 percent in 2030.

Building new nuclear power plants and expanding existing ones were regarded as the ultimate answer for mitigating climate change. But the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011 led to suspension of the operation of all 53 nuclear power plants in Japan.

I think it utterly puzzling that few arguments have been made linking this year’s heat waves and local cloudbursts to global warming and climate change. I think there are three reasons for this:

First, proponents of the expansion of nuclear power generation have lost steam since the Fukushima disaster. As construction and expansion of nuclear power plants are no longer considered the ultimate answer for mitigating climate change, not only the power industry but also other industries have lost interest in climate change.

Second, the general public has also felt less concern over climate change as Abe’s government has pursued a strategy of leading people to concentrate on the economy. His administration has made virtually no mention of environmental issues. Thus mass media have stopped taking them up.

Third, since the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC ended in 2012, Japan, along with the United States, Russia and New Zealand, no longer has any target for GHG reductions for the second commitment period of 2013 to 2020.

I would like to add that there has been no change whatsoever in the level of interest shown in climate-change issues by European countries and the U.S.

Takamitsu Sawa is president of Shiga University, Japan.

  • gnirol

    I would like to add a 4th reason. The fact that it is hot this summer is no more indicative that there is long-term climate change than the fact that two years ago they had tons of snow in NYC indicates there is none, as the climate change deniers irrationally claim every time it does snow in large quantities somewhere. On the other hand, winter temps in Tokyo are up 3.5 degrees in the last 25 years. The seasons have been slightly altered, it seems. Twenty-five years ago the last leaves fell in my neighborhood around December 10-15. Two years ago it was December 26th. Last winter: January 1st. It’s hard to get people to focus on 25 years of gradually changing weather data, when the media are electrified by lightning strikes and feverishly reporting 41-degree temps here or there, but that’s what we need to do if there is to be a concerted effort to do something to ameliorate the damage that is surely coming.

  • Moonraker

    Or maybe human beings are obsessed with premature petrification of this living planet and Japan is in the vanguard.

  • Eagle

    Climate only touches the surface. Humans will have to move underground and will mutate into something else that can live underground when the surface becomes inhabitable and can never ever come out to the light any more.
    The price human will pay for being unscrupulous and destroying nature.

    So what? I cannot imagine that there is no life already underground, say a good 4-6 Km beneath. Humanoid and animals too. We just couldn’t discover yet.

    It’s hard to imagine that life can only exist on the surface. There is life in the sea, in the air (birds) under the ground (moles), although we only discovered life just a few meters under the surface, and of course, there is life/ living creatures in space. Hard to believe there is not, unless you are a scientist or a researcher with technical instruments and without insight, vision and clairvoyance.

    It is neither the strong, nor the smart who will survive, just the ones who can adapt to the environment, as the environment does not want to adapt to the living creatures. At this time cockroaches seem to be the winner.

    New generations that are born now, are not very lucky. This weather, this climate is going for overkill. Just a few decades and only the rich will survive, another few decades and they won’t either as no money will buy life any more.

    Am I pessimistic or realistic??

  • Jens Hvass

    In Denmark, we are right now discussing a cross-ministerial catalogue of 78 initiatives that together should be able to lift the 2020 carbon reduction target of from 34% to 40% compared to 1990. It takes some clear analysis, it takes a strong leadership vision, it takes public and business support and it takes a will to go beyond business as usual patterns. Of cause some complains that the traffic is targeted too little, that too much of the ‘burden’ this time is put on the agricultural sector (having the best cost-benefit ratio) But most of the initiatives are cost neutral and tax neutral (and good business from society perspective). Still at this point there are ‘low-hanging’ fruits to be harvested on the road towards carbon neutrality by mid century. And by 2020, the natural steps for reaching 50% or 60% below 1990 levels will be as natural and ripe for harvest.

    In Japan, the Fukushima incident exploded a climate policy that was far too shallowly relying on the carbon promise of nuclear energy.

    Japanese energy policy specialist Tetsunari Iida has proposed a 100% renewable scenario for Japan by 2050 in which half of the reductions comes from ‘negawatts’ – systematic energy efficiency measures – meaning that Japan in 2050 will need only half the amount of energy compared to today. In this scenario, renewables are boosted while coal is slowly squeezed out. Nuclear is phased out within 10 years, and there is no need to restart technologically outdated or seismologically mislocated reactors. With a scenario like this, Japan could enter a road that would trigger Japanese ingenuity and inventiveness – and a feeling of happiness and relief – while in the same time living up to Japan’s global climate obligations (they did not disappear with Fukushima).

    But all this takes some solid leadership based on a clear vision of a post-fossil Japan powered on sustainable energy.

    Until then, Japan will do many mis-dispositions, like TEPCO making more coal plants. Times is over for that, in the same way as time is over for making new nuclear plants. Of cause you can build new reactors. But the business case is at best bleak. For the same money you can have far more energy and far more carbon reductions much faster (simpler, safer and cleaner).

    • Starviking

      A scenario, like Iida’s – where the most climate-effecting fossil fuel, coal, is slowly squeezed out, but low-CO2 nuclear plants are targetted for rapid closure is nonsensical. It’s the “We have to save the climate, but we’re not really serious about it” plan.

      • Eagle

        As far as I know, Japan is busy buying CO2 emission quotas from developing or poor countries while going on with high domestic emission rate. TEPCO can do it, no problem they will charge then in the electricity bill. There come the electric cars, no CO2 emission on the roads, just double of it from the fossil power plants they are to build now and another kind of pollution from the NPPs. They need to feed the growing number or hybrid and electric cars with electricity.

      • Starviking

        Current electric cars require a lot of CO2 to produce, and if the electricity they need comes from fossil fuels then that is a double whammy

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

    I might at that sceptics are getting increasing recognition, sadly not in the mainstream ‘disinformation’ media, but on social media. I might add that Eastern Australia had a heat wave last year. I was not there for it, but I do recall many more days over 40degC as a child in Sydney some 30 years ago. But of course there is less industrialisation in the southern hemisphere, so maybe Japan is just experiencing a ‘heat island’ effect, or just simply normal climatic variation.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    The planet has been around longer than you have lived.
    That something feels “super-hot” to you, doesn’t mean anything is out of the ordinary relative to the total history of weather change on the earth.

    At numerous points in history the earth has been covered in ice.
    It’s going to continue to change with or without us, and there’s nothing we can do about it.
    Though, there is one thing we can do, and that is make our lives stagnant and gradually miserable with crippling rules and regulations on industry.
    The future of the torrent of the elements is not yet here, but why wait, let’s start the suffering today!
    How progressive.