Japan shows climate change is a real threat
Typhoons, floods, heatwaves as well as a big earthquake have hit the nation in two months, and there is no excuse not to take the effects of warming seriously
An earthquake and storm prone island nation, Japan seems to have to cope with more than its share of disasters. It is also good at it. Its enduring popularity as a safe destination for Hong Kong tourists reflects that. There will therefore be a lot of sympathy for the bereaved and injured, and empathy after a two-month ordeal of typhoons, floods, heatwaves and a severe earthquake. The disappointment of disrupted holidays seems trivial by comparison.
Record rains in July brought floods and landslides to western Japan that killed about 200 people, followed by record-breaking heat that hampered recovery efforts and left scores dead – mainly vulnerable older people. The floods were the worst for decades. Now Japan is recovering from the most powerful typhoon to hit the country in a quarter of a century and a 6.7 magnitude earthquake.
Typhoon Jebi killed at least 11 people, whipping up high waves that swamped Kansai International Airport near Osaka in western Japan and forced the emergency evacuation of hundreds of Hong Kong and mainland tourists. The earthquake struck the northern island of Hokkaido, killing at least eight and closing an air hub, leaving thousands, including hundreds of Hongkongers, stranded.
Inevitably the tragic sequence of weather events, along with wildfires in the California wilderness and across Europe, have been linked to global warming and the risk of calamitous climate change. While northern hemisphere heatwaves have been partly attributed to the jet stream straying further north than usual this year, that does not account for a pattern of higher temperatures and more extreme weather events in recent years; global carbon dioxide emissions do.
There is an emerging pattern of more powerful and devastating weather events. Similar sequences of severe weather could happen to the Philippines and other less well-equipped and prepared countries in our region, with dire consequences. Japan’s experience serves as a reminder, where one is needed, that climate change is not a fiction. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will soon issue a report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. No level of warming is safe. Sceptics are running out of excuses for not taking it seriously.