May 31, 2019 Fri
Beach weathe

Over the past few weeks, an unusual spell of hot weather has brought record temperatures to Hokkaido and sent air conditioning units whirring in houses and offices up and down the country. Though exceptional, the heat has been met with typical Japanese stoicism. After all, Japan is a country used to facing the nature’s ravages. Earthquakes, typhoons, even volcanic eruptions regularly devastate the country. However, of mounting concern is the increasing prevalence of extreme weather events linked to man-made climate change. Last year, Japan chose ‘disaster’ (災) as its kanji of the year: devastating July rains were followed by a deadly heatwave, and at the end of the summer a series of highly destructive typhoons slammed into the country. Although an unusually bad year for extreme weather, 2018 was in some ways an indication of things to come. Like in many areas of the world, climate change is set to increase the frequency of extreme weather events (such as floods, heatwaves and typhoons) that will occur in Japan. The knock-on effects include risks for crop production and a change of habitats, as plants such as bamboo migrate further north. Indeed, even staples of the Japanese diet, such as certain types of fish, may become increasingly rare as migration patterns are altered. Japan already invests a large amount in damage-prevention infrastructure and disaster management, so it is in some ways prepared to deal with climate change’s effects. However, the ferocity of the weather events of last year caught many by surprise, with even Kansai airport – the main port of entry into western Japan – unreachable after high winds caused a tanker to destroy the bridge to the airport island. Further, with many Japanese companies reliant on global supply chains, a disaster in one country can have implications many miles away; though an island nation, Japan’s economy is nevertheless highly exposed to environmental disasters in other parts of the world. The challenges posed by climate change are urgent and numerous; Japan may be famed for its stoicism and ability to rebound, but there are some storms nobody can weather.

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