LONDON – Japan’s population has been identified as being at great risk from rising sea levels and more intense cyclones linked to climate change, research released Wednesday revealed.
In the first global study of its kind, the International Institute for Environment and Development, based in Britain, highlighted Japan as the country with the sixth-largest number of people — a total of 30,477,000 — living within 10 meters of the average sea level.
In fact, on a map showing population density across the country, many of Japan’s largest urban areas, including Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka and Sapporo, have over 1,000 people per sq. km living within the worrying 10-meter elevation coastal zone.
The report cites the “recent expansion of international trade” and Japan’s preference for ocean shipping over air freight as contributing factors to the pre-eminence of densely populated urban hubs along the country’s coastline.
Report author Gordon McGranahan insists the future is not completely bleak for Japan, however, providing that measures are taken “now.”
“Japan has a lot of resources and I think it therefore has the capacity to not only protect, but also to move, settlements around to some degree, as long as it’s over a long time period,” McGranahan said.
“Obviously Japan is a coastal nation but we’re not saying that the 10-meter zone is an area that is going to be imminently flooded — it’s more an area where the issues of sea level rise and coastal hazards need to be taken seriously,” he added.
China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia all have populations in the 10-meter zone greater than Japan’s, marking Asia as particularly at risk from the detriments of water-related climate change.
“Between 1994 and 2004, about one-third of the 1,562 flood disasters, half of the 120,000 people killed, and 98 percent of the 2 million people affected by flood disasters were in Asia,” the report says.
Estimates of global mean sea-level rise show increases of tens of centimeters within the next century and the report is, as a result, keen to indicate how the risks to human settlements could be reduced if people and enterprises could be encouraged to move away from the most risk-prone coastal areas.
The current population movements are reported as being in the opposite direction, however, and countries including China, with its economic liberalization and growth-driving rapid urbanization and coastward population movements, are raising particular alarm among coastal environmentalists.
“There is a legitimate concern that continued urbanization will draw still greater populations and population shares into the low elevation coastal zone,” the report states, highlighting the importance of “mitigation, migration and modification” in counteracting the trend.
It calls on governments — particularly of high-income countries — to both mitigate and adapt, encouraging large companies to shift the location of their activities, in order to reduce the risks of the onslaught of climate change in vulnerable coastal zones.
“Most urban infrastructure is immobile and long-lasting, making rapid shifts in urban location very costly,” the report acknowledges, and certainly McGranahan is not suggesting that Japan’s major urban centers promptly move inland, but he does strongly recommend that movement toward, and growth of, the coast is stopped.
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