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Legislation promoting ways to adapt to climate change, recently submitted to the Diet, will require both national and local governments to work out plans to cope with and reduce damage from global warming, such as worsening floods due to extreme weather, intrusion of new diseases and decline in the quality of agriculture. Despite measures taken to fight climate change, further rises in global temperatures in coming decades appear unavoidable, the impact from which is already affecting our lives today. Adapting to climate change will require steady efforts based on a long-term strategy, so the efforts need to start today.

The Paris accord was adopted in 2015 by both developed and developing countries at a United Nations conference on climate change. Based on voluntary efforts by participants to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperature from pre-industrial levels well below 2 degrees Celsius and pursue efforts to cut the increase even closer to 1.5 degrees. There is no guarantee, however, that the goal will be achieved. The United States, the world’s second-largest emitter after China, has announced its departure from the Paris agreement under the administration of President Donald Trump. The sum total of plans submitted by countries taking part in the accord is deemed insufficient to keep temperature rises below the levels feared to cause severe damage, such as more frequent natural disasters and destruction of ecosystems.

Global warming is progressing. The world’s average temperature is already about 1 degree above pre-industrial levels. A special report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the average temperature may climb to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels as early as the 2040s. The Meteorological Agency says Japan’s average temperature has been rising by 1.2 degrees every century. One forecast says the temperature here will increase faster than the global average, increasing by as much as 5.4 degrees by the end of the 21st century compared with 100 years earlier.

Under the proposed legislation, local governments will be urged to develop plans to adapt to climate change — either alone or in cooperation with others — by taking their own conditions into account. The environment minister will assess the impact of global warming every five years, and the national government will review its adaptation plan, devised in 2015, on the basis of the assessment. The National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, will serve as the center for analyzing the effects of global warming. The legislation also calls on the nation to push technological cooperation with developing countries on measures to adapt to climate change.

The legislation, once enacted, will make it easier for national and local governments to secure funding for measures to cope with global warming. It is also hoped that the legislation will facilitate inclusion of measures to mitigate the impact of climate change in the government’s other programs and policies. A measure to build a higher seawall to guard against rises in sea levels due to global warming, for example, can be combined with anti-tsunami steps taken in coastal areas deemed at high risk of a major earthquake. Greater chances of flooding due to climate change may require a long-term effort to move communities and their public facilities, such as municipal offices, hospitals and schools, to higher and safer ground.

Japan is already experiencing various problems associated with climate change, such as more frequent and severe flooding caused by torrential rains, increases heatstroke cases, and lower crop yields due to higher temperatures. Assuming that the rises in temperature will continue, steps may need to be taken to develop new varieties of farm products that withstand warmer weather or encourage farmers to grow other types of crops. Agricultural experimental stations in each prefecture may not be fully equipped to develop such new varieties. The government should take the initiative for broad cooperation among national institutions, universities and the experimental stations.

Global warming may bring to Japan diseases now unknown in this country. Mosquitoes that spread dengue fever will likely become widespread. Changes in ecosystems are also likely to intensify. It will be important for both national and local governments to try to foresee what could happen and take steps to prepare for and mitigate the potential damage. While pushing measures to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and contain climate change, Japan needs to work out a long-term strategy to live with the changes wrought by global warming.

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