Sunday, August 07, 2016

Climate Change Threatens Japan’s Agriculture

More than 65.5 percent of the nation’s wheat is grown in Hokkaido. (Credit: Bloomberg) Click to Enlarge.
Based on its current popularity and saturation media coverage, one might think that Japanese food had nothing to worry about.  However, beneath all of the promotional campaigns — often unnoticed by either supermarket shoppers or restaurant customers — lies a troubling reality.  Climate change is threatening Japanese agriculture in unprecedented ways.

If the gravest predictions turn out to be true, by the end of this century, the world could view what are now fairly common products at the Japanese dinner table as either rare luxury items or something that people used to eat, but no longer.

Grim picture
Climate change science requires years of careful analysis before even the most cautious conclusions and predictions are issued about how climate change is affecting the world as a whole or specific regions, and what kinds of climate shifts can be expected.

However, policymakers have to adopt climate change mitigation policies for the future that are based on data that was gathered and analyzed many years ago, which leaves a lot of room for political arguments about whether the future will be as, or more, dire than the scientists conclude.  Nevertheless, for Japan, several studies in recent years paint a grim picture for climate change’s effect on Japanese food production over the remainder of the 21st century.

Takuya Nomoto, an Environment Ministry official, noted at a 2013 symposium that climate experts were predicting the country’s average temperature would rise between 2.1 and 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.  The rise will bring severe weather patterns, including heavier rains and floods, which is predicted to affect Japan’s most basic crop: rice.

“Yields of irrigated rice will be increased, but the quality might be negatively impacted,” Nomoto told his audience.

As long ago as 2008, the World Wide Fund for Nature warned in a report entitled “Nippon Changes” that research showed climate change would mean an increase in the number of extremely hot days (over 35 degrees Celsius) in Japan, and a decrease in the number of frost days by 20 to 45 days per year.  Over the course of this century, mean precipitation was expected to increase by more than 10 percent nationwide.

During summer, however, precipitation was expected to increase by 17-19 percent over current levels.  Increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as heat waves and heavy rainfall were also predicted.

“The impacts of warming temperatures will have a substantial effect on Japan’s agricultural industries,” the report said.
The changes will not be limited to land-based agricultural products.  The World Wide Fund for Nature report, citing figures from the environment and agricultural ministries, warned that certain fish species that have become synonymous with the arrival of autumn, especially Pacific saury and salmon, might be harder to come by as waters, especially in northern Japan, warm up and ice floes near Hokkaido shrink, depriving the fish of a critical source of nutrients.

“Because drift ice creates a rich oceanic environment that fosters ice algae and thus forms the primary link in the ocean food chain, a change in the timing of ice retreat will affect fish production and, subsequently, Japan’s fishing industry,” the World Wide Fund for Nature report warned.  “While the waters off Japan are currently considered some of the richest fisheries in the world, largely due to the convergence of the subtropical Japan current (Kuroshio) and the sub-arctic Kurile current (Oyashio), research suggests that Japan may face a substantial decline in some fish catches over the 21st century.”

Read more at Climate Change Threatens Nation’s Agriculture

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