Cherry Blossom, Japanese and Climate Change

Right after the IPCC AR5 WGII report was released , Tokyo, Yokohama and its surrounding areas went into the best season of cherry blossoms. I wonder those who came to Yokohama for the IPCC meeting had a chance to see them. I feel sorry if they missed them…

Cherry blossom 01 Cherry blossom 02

Right now, people in Tokyo are celebrating the cherry blossom at their best. The blossoms came suddenly this year. People are getting the fidgets during work time because they are worried about whether the best condition holds until the weekend.

Some have already started enjoying Hanami party. In literal translation, Hanami means “watching flowers” but it usually means a kind of party where you get together with your friends or co-workers under cherry trees and have drinks and foods while enjoying the blossoms.

Because Japanese people love cherry blossom so much, records of the cherry blossoms have been kept well. Also, the main factor for cherry blossom is known to be the temperature, which makes the cherry blossom a good indicator of tracking the effect of climate change.

According to Japan Meteorological Agency’s report, the timing of cherry blossom has become earlier at the pace of 0.9 day per decade since 1953. The latest version of the report is 2012 in Japanese but the 2011 version is available in English here.

Trend of Timing of Cherry BlossomsOne might wonder why it is so important. After all, it does not mean you cannot see the cherry blossom; it just means it is going to be a bit early.

This is where Japanese custom/culture comes in. In Japan, most of the schools and workplaces start their (fiscal) year from April and end in March. Because of this, April is a season where new lives begin and the cherry blossoms are considered a symbol of new lives. However, if the timing shifted toward earlier, then it suddenly changes its meaning. Now it is not very uncommon to see the cherry blossom in the season of graduation ceremony, i.e. end of one stage of lives. This could completely change the meaning that our culture gives to the cherry blossom.

You might still think that is not a big deal. After all, it is not as harsh as other examples of climate change, e.g. extreme weather events or sea-level rise.  I think that’s a fair point.
What scares me, though, is that this is a typical,example of climate change’s impacts going beyond physical, tangible effects. It could change intangibles too. Here, it is the meaning of the cherry blossom that people give in our culture. To me, this is a scary example of complex climate change impacts.

What bothers me further is that people, including, or, especially, me, are getting more and more detached from nature and are becoming insensitive to those signs that we could have gotten much earlier. On the cherry blossoms, yes, even I feel the change. But we are losing the touch of nature and becoming poor at feeling how seriously it is changing. This could slow us down in terms of actions that we must take. This may not be the case for those who still work close by nature but those who live and work in urban areas, it may be a big problem, because, as the IPCC report shows, we don’t have much time left.

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Kyoto Anniversary

Today marks the 8th anniversary of the Kyoto Protocol’s entry into force.

“8th” isn’t exactly a round number but this year happens to be the transition period from the first commitment period (2008-2012) to the second (2013-2020).

Hence I thought today deserves a short remark.

As the name of Kyoto suggests, it was adopted in my country’s old capital in 1997. In fact, the Protocol was the reason why I stepped into this field. I was a student living in Kyoto and very complicated nature of the problem made me interested in the issue of climate change. So, Kyoto was at least effective to make one freshman college student serious about the issue and make him choose his career for that.

After 8 years, the world is on track to 4 degree or 6 degree world. We are nowhere near securing a climate safe future. You could say Kyoto wasn’t sufficient by pointing out this fact. However, it is also crystal clear that the world would have been in the worse place without Kyoto.

Although one of the largest contribution made by Kyoto was setting legally binding emission reduction targets for developed countries, I believe the effect wasn’t just that. It sets out the basic elements of climate policies that run through today and affected almost all the countries.

Of course, it wasn’t perfect and has some its flaws. And yet.

Now is the time to build on and step up what Kyoto has accumulated.

What’s bothering me is my country didn’t sign up for the second commitment period of the protocol. It said the Protocol would “fix” the separation between “developed” and “developing” countries.

It might look so in today’s context. But we have to know it is developed countries like Japan which screwed the trust building process leading up to today by asserting actions were needed on developing countries’ side BEFORE they took sufficient action.

If you look at Japan’s GHG record, the country never succeeded to bring down its emissions below 1990 level before the Lehman shock hit the economy. The country can achieve the target in Kyoto with credits and sinks but the substance of efforts wasn’t certainly not impressive to claim that “we did our share.”

I wouldn’t say it was just developed countries’ fault. Some very unconstructive negotiation stance from major economies certainly disturbed the process. When I was sitting in the conference plenary room as an observer, I sometimes wondered why the negotiations had to be so destructive many times.

After the country decided not to join Kyoto’s CP2, Japan seemed to plan its own actions under its own emission reduction target. Today, even the voluntary target is fading away.

I have to ask: where is our pride? Walking away from the treaty that has old capital’s name is one thing but not showing its way even after almost two years since the earthquake is a different thing.

In a nutshell, we are in a deep sh*t hole on this epic day.

There are signs of hopeful changes in this country. I’m not as pessimistic as this sounds and I have some optimism left in me.

With renewed determination, we must continue our efforts.