The latest Environment Ministry report on estimated damage from global warming reminds us of the urgency of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions — efforts that do not appear to be high on the Abe administration’s policy agenda.
Last year, Japan came under severe international criticism for its new greenhouse gas emissions target — which aims for a 3.8 percent cut from 2005 levels by 2020 but allows for a 3.1 percent increase from 1990 levels. The government said the figures were the best it could offer as long as the prospect of restarting Japan’s idled nuclear power plants remained unclear. But this excuse only illustrates the lack of fresh initiatives by the Abe administration to reduce the nation’s emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The report put together by the ministry’s research team paints a gloomy picture of heavy damage from global warming on Japan’s ecosystem and people’s lives. Based on projections from recent computer-aided simulations of climate change, the report says a rise in average annual temperature of between 3.5 and 6.4 degrees by the end of the 21st century, compared with 100 years earlier, would raise the sea level by about 60 cm, resulting in the loss of 85 percent of sand beaches across the country.
The annual cost of damage caused by flooding is estimated to reach ¥680 billion. Heat-related deaths are feared to double by the middle of the century. Rising temperatures will enable tropical plants to grow in Tokyo. Rice production nationwide is not forecast to substantially change, but the proportion of low-quality rice is estimated to increase, according to the report.
The government and the public need to take these warnings seriously and reignite public discussions on climate change, which has been getting less political attention in recent years in Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not only has scrapped the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led administration’s goal of a 25-percent cut in carbon emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels, but also avoids making new commitments of his own for substantial reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, citing uncertainty over the nation’s nuclear power, which does not emit greenhouse gases in its power-generation process.
The government’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions has indeed relied heavily on the use of nuclear power. But the shutdowns of nuclear power plants after the March 2011 disasters should not be an excuse for the government to take no other actions. Japan has lagged behind other countries in exploring other avenues of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including tighter energy-saving standards at office buildings, cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector through greater use of public transportation, expanded taxation on the use of carbon fuels and heavy investments in wind, wave, solar and geothermal power.
While warning against the estimated damage from global warming, the report also highlights the importance of efforts to mitigate the damage by taking adaptive measures to climate change, which is seen as unavoidable. The cost of damage from floods, for example, would likely be reduced substantially by such measures as building taller embankments or increasing the water-storage capacity of dams, the report says. Other necessary steps would include adapting agricultural and fisheries activities to changing climate conditions.
The central and local governments will need to come up with strategies for implementing these measures. Such efforts will require massive research and huge investments, which will need to start today to save the future generations from the anticipated havoc of climate change.