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.

Three “Options for Energy and the Environment”


Which way?

After the Earthquake and Fukushima disaster on March 11, 2011, Japanese government started a review process of its energy policies.

Under the Energy Policy Basic Law (Note: literal translation of the name), the government is asked to set up a strategic plan on energy policies every three years. The government just did that in 2010 and adopted the new “Basic Plan on Energy” (Note: the same as above) in the same year (if you want to see this old version, you can read the summary here; it says “Strategic Energy Plan of Japan”). However, in light of the disaster, it started the process to re-change it.

After almost one year of discussion at governmental advisory committees, the governmet presented the so-called three Options for Energy and the Environment on June 29th.

Those three options are basically divided by share of nuclear in electricity mix in 2030 but these also include other details too (e.g. renewable percentages, fossil fuel mix, etc).

You can see government’s own explanation in the slides here.

There are lots of thing I want to talk about these so-called “Options” or scenarios. However, let me first focus on implications for climate targets of these Options because they are devastating.

In summary, climate targets for the three Options like like the following:

  • 0% Scenario: 0% nuclear in 2030 => 7% GHG reduction below 1990 by 2020, 23% by 2030
  • 15% Scenario: 15% nuclear in 2030 => 9% GHG reduction below 1990 by 2020, 23% by 2030
  • 20-25% Scenario: 20-25% nuclear in 2030 => 10-11% GHG reduction below 1990 by 2020, 25% by 2030

You might wonder why the difference between 0% scenario and 15% or 20-25% secnarios is not so big. It is because both renewable and energy efficiency assumptions are enhanced in case of 0% scenario. I will talk about those assumptions later.

The current Japanese target for GHG reduction is 25% reduction below 1990 by 2020. It was announced before the Copenhagen conference in 2009 and was also submitted to the Cancun pledges (though, with strong conditionality).

It should be noted that the figures in these Options are expressed as pure domestic reduction while the 25% reduction was understood to include forest sinks and offsets. If you assume the same level of use of those measures as in the Kyoto’s first commitment period, Japan would use 3.8% and 1.6% of sinks and offses respectively. Hence you can say, 0% Scenario Option is actually 12.4%; 15% Scenario Option is 14.4%; and 20-25% Scenario Option is 16.4%.

Nonetheless, these are significant regress from the original 25% reduction target. When the UN negotiations are talking about “raising ambition,” this won’t look nice.  If any of the three Options is adopted as the way forward as it is, then it is very likely that the climate target is also revised accordingly.  In short, we are on the verge of losing the 25% reduction target.

The government is now holding some sort of public consultation process and origanlly planned to conclude by the end of August.   I said “some sort of” because the public consultation process has some problems.  I also said “originally planned to conclude” because now it is getting likely to get postponed at least by Fall due to the problems.

Anyway, in a nutshell, from climate perspective, these three Options put forward by the government is not exactly encouraging. I hope to dig into more in the next posts.

About this blog

I’ve been wanting to do this for long time but, somehow, I’ve been failing to start it (mostly because I’m a lazy person).

The purpose of this blog is to provide my personal views on climate and energy policies in Japan. Because there are not many information sources of this kind, I thought there might be some appetite for this kind of blog out there.  Sometimes I receive questions from foreign journalists and almost all of them are having difficult time following what’s happening in Japanese climate and energy policies.   It is not just because of the obvious, language barrier but because the information is very difficult to find.   In fact, even if you were a Japanese, it would be difficult to find information related to climate and energy policies.

My views may be biased because of my occupation.  But they will be better than nothing.

I have to say the views expressed here are totally personal and have nothing to do with the organization’s official views.

I’ll try to explain things so that people outiside Japan can understand the context.  But I guess it will be difficult as I live in Japan and don’t understand what foreign people don’t understand.

So, if you have any suggestions, please let me know.