By Paola Marisela González
Climate Change in Japan is already being seen in evident ways such as the reduction of snow levels in the north of Japan, the cherry blossoms opening earlier, and the autumn leaves changing colour later each year.
The topic of climate change has even permeated popular culture like in the case of the movie Weathering with You (tenki no ko) which was released in 2019, earning a box office revenue of over $193.1 million USD worldwide and 14.06 billion yen ($117.7 million USD) in Japan.
Terms like climate change, climate crisis and global warming have become increasingly used in different fields, reaching a wide variety of audiences. In this article, we take a look at some of the ways in which Japanese organisations and individuals are helping to tackle the climate crisis.
What Does Climate Change in Japan Look Like?
Climate change in Japan means that summers will become more humid with more floods as a result of superstorms, the other seasons will also get shorter, and typhoons will become even stronger. Among other disruptions, in 2019 global warming has caused a lack of snow for the Sapporo Snow Festival so it needed to be imported in order to continue. Scientists have predicted that without urgent countermeasures against global warming, the Japanese skiing industry would lose 30% of visits nationally by the year 2050.
The effects of climate change in Japan on agriculture include the fact that farming of fruits and vegetables that once grew only in the south might become possible to farm in the north, however, it will become challenging to grow plants and crops that are suited for colder climates. Therefore, farmers need to learn how to farm crops that they are not used to, and new trade deals should be established to support these farmers.
A well-thought out environmental policy and proactive approach might be needed to tackle climate change in Japan, a country fortunate to have vast biodiversity and different weather patterns from Hokkaido to Okinawa. According to experts, solutions might include; national strategies to help species adapt to moving northward—by replanting corals or seaweed— collaborations and training programmes for farmers and fishers, as well as setting up new trade deals with them in advance. In addition, Japan is working towards its goal of becoming a decarbonised society.
What’s the Environmental Impact of COVID-19 on Climate Change in Japan?
With the lockdown implemented in many countries at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, some temporary visible changes in the environment were seen, like the clearing of the water canals in Venice, and a significant decrease in air pollution in many cities. These notable outcomes have brought attention to climate change. Nevertheless, in the long-run, the pandemic can affect climate action as many companies are facing challenging financial situations, so they might delay or cancel climate-friendly projects that require investment.
Even if there have been some positive environmental consequences during the pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has increased the use of disposable plastic, making it urgent to find solutions to tackle the problem of plastic pollution. Japan’s expertise in waste management can contribute in this area. In May 2020, Japan and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced a cooperative effort to tackle plastic pollution across Asia.
One measure that was implemented in June 2020 related to plastic pollution in Japan is the new regulation that requires convenience stores, supermarkets, drugstores and other retailers to charge for plastic shopping bags, as it is already happening in several countries of the world, including the UK and France. Nevertheless, shops can still offer free bags that use environmentally friendly materials, which are exempt from the government’s regulation for compulsory charging.
Japan’s most popular convenience stores have started to charge 3 yen or 5 yen per bag, depending on the size. Japan is generating the largest amount of plastic waste per capita after the United States, however, according to environmental experts, plastic bags only represent an estimated 2 percent of an annual 9 million tons of plastic waste generated in the country. Therefore, experts suggest that Japan should not limit its regulatory steps to plastic bags, but should also start debating the reduction and reuse of other disposable plastic products, such as bento boxes, straws, bottles and food packaging.
Companies Leading Japan’s Climate Change Measures
Japanese companies are committing to tackling climate change in Japan, providing goods and services that can help create a sustainable society through leading-edge initiatives. One remarkable example for its contribution to the use of renewable energy is RICOH, an equipment manufacturer which produces multifunctional printers, printing machines and IT solutions for offices. The company aims to consume at least 30% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and is achieving to make this figure 100% by 2050.
Another example is the electronics company Panasonic Corporation which is working to create factories with zero CO2 emissions, as well as developing energy-saving products to reduce the amount of energy used during production and usage of products. In this company, they are producing energy through photovoltaic (PV) power generation, storage batteries, and hydrogen energy towards building a society with clean, renewable energy.
When it comes to solar energy, the solar power generation company XSOL provides comprehensive services including planning, procurement, construction, and maintenance of solar power generation, analysing market trends to increase the options in the solar market in Japan. Solar Frontier, a company that produces, sales and exports photovoltaic cells, is another Japanese company offering solar panel technology as a sustainable alternative that can help combat climate change in Japan.
In the housing and construction sector, Shimizu Corporation is developing an integrated system that captures and dilutes CO2 before releasing it into the atmosphere and converts it electrochemically into useful chemical raw materials, establishing a foundation for carbon recycling.
Housing company LIXIL Corporation aims to achieve a net-zero Environmental Footprint for their entire business process in 2030, and they are providing environmentally friendly products and services that are water-efficient and with low carbon emissions. These are just a few examples of many enterprises actively innovating to tackle climate change in Japan.
Organisations Involved with Climate Action in Japan
The Paris Agreement is the first universal, legally binding agreement related to global climate change, adopted at the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015. In June 2017, the United States announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. In response, more than 2,800 American companies, states, cities and other actors signed the “We Are Still In” declaration committing to remain actively engaged with the international community as part of a global effort to hold warming to well below 2℃ and accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy.
Inspired by this mobilisation, over 100 Japanese companies, local governments, research institutions and NGOs established the Japan Climate Initiative (JCI). By October 2020, the JCI had 507 members, including 364 companies, 33 cities / municipalities and 110 other organisations.
The Japan Climate Initiative (JCI) is a network of various non-state actors such as companies, local governments, organisations and NGOs actively engaged in climate action, that pledged to stand at the forefront of global challenges in order to achieve the decarbonised society envisioned in the Paris Agreement. The Agreement entered the implementation phase in 2020, and member parties were required to resubmit their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
Therefore, the JCI submitted to the Japanese government a statement entitled “Calling on the Japanese government to enhance its NDC” which includes a greenhouse-gas emissions reduction target for 2030. The JCI is committed to serve as a bridge between Japan and the world in the effort to overcome the crisis of climate change. The members of the organisation believe that Japan has to strengthen its countermeasures, so they are enhancing their efforts to demonstrate global leadership in achieving the Paris Agreement target through their own activities, demonstrating Japan’s commitment to climate efforts.
Environmental awareness in Japan
Besides official measures that are being implemented by the government to tackle climate change in Japan, social movements promoting climate action are becoming popular, especially among the younger generation. One recent example is the participation of many Japanese people in the global campaign Fridays For Future.
This movement began in August 2018, when 15-year-old Greta Thunberg began a school strike to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. More people started to join her until the Swedish authorities provided a pathway in line with the Paris agreement. They created the hashtag #FridaysForFuture and encouraged young people all over the world to join them.
In February 2019, the FridaysForFuture (FFF) in Japan started in Tokyo led by student interns at environmental NGOs and in March of the same year, FFF Japan joined the Global Climate Strike with two demonstrations supporting the movement in Tokyo and Kyoto with a total of 300 participants. The movement slowly spread to other regions, and the strike for Global Day of Climate Action held in Japan in September 2019 had a total of 5000 participants from 24 prefectures.
In February 2020, the Student Climate Emergency Summit took place in Shibuya, Tokyo, with around 100 students that learnt from specialists in climate change in Japan. Furthermore, the members of the Fridays For Future in each region have requested their local governments to announce a climate emergency declaration, which means that the authorities acknowledge the urgency of climate change countermeasures.
For the Global Day of Climate Action in 2020, as big gatherings were not recommended, in order to support the movement of climate change in Japan, activists joined the Shoe Strike for Climate Change scattering around a hundred pairs of shoes on a sidewalk outside Japan’s Parliament on the evening of September 25th along with placards demanding stronger global warming countermeasures.
Awareness about climate change in Japan has been increasing in recent years. The government, NGOs, private companies, and society as a whole are all taking action in these matters, which is reflected across an everyday lifestyle that is becoming more sustainable in order to contribute to the global urgency of climate change.
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