Identifying opportunity in the climate crisis

Climate experts are gathering this week in Yokohama to discuss how the effects of global warming can be minimised. Companies in the host country Japan are increasingly identifying opportunities in the climate crisis and developing high-tech solutions to mitigate the damages caused by weather extremes. Susanne Steffen reports from Tokyo.


The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is issuing increasingly bleaker projections. A draft of the IPCC assessment report due to be released on Monday predicts that millions of people in coastal areas will be forced to relocate by the end of this century thanks to rising sea levels and more frequent flooding. If the global average temperature rises by 4 degrees Celsius, the risk of flooding and heat-related deaths will be “extremely high”, especially in Asia. Rice, grain and corn harvests are expected to decrease at the same time that demand will increase significantly due to a rapidly growing global population, according to a discussion template for the IPCC Climate Conference in Yokohama.

Host country Japan wants to set a positive example. The government wants to introduce its own action plan for an eco-friendly lifestyle by summer 2015. Environment minister Nobuteru Ishihara is quoted as saying that Japan also wants to make the Toyko 2020 Summer Olympic Games the most environmental friendly games in history.

Billions in damages

Japan anticipates that economic damages caused by weather extremes will triple by the turn of the century. According to a projection by the Ministry of the Environment, the third largest economy in the world will have to cope with climate-related damages in the amount of 680 billion yen (4.8 billion euro) per year.

But the Japanese are now much more aware of have gravely climate change will impact their lives, said environment minister Ishihara at the opening of the IPCC meeting on Monday. Only a few weeks ago, frequent – and until recently, very rare – snowstorms paralysed the capital city Tokyo and destroyed countless crops.

High-tech agriculture

While UN climate experts continue to debate the various damage scenarios, Japan’s high-tech companies have long recognised that unexpected snowstorms, sudden heavy rainfall or droughts from heat waves are not only potentially dangerous, but can even represent new business opportunities. If the weather increasingly plays by its own unpredictable rules, farmers can no longer rely on their experience and instinct, leading IT giant Fujitsu to conclude that the only way forward for agriculture in this era of climate change is to become more high tech. The company now provides sensors to winemakers, among others, that measure temperature and humidity in the vineyards and calculate the best harvest days. “Climate change has a major impact on the quality and quantity of the harvest. Farmers definitely need such tools now,” one of the developers was quoted as saying in a Japanese newspaper.

Lettuce factories

Japanese consumer electronic manufacturers such as Panasonic, Sharp and others are even looking to make agriculture fully independent of climate-related uncertainties. The latest trend is hermeticallysealed, windowless plant factories for lettuce, strawberries and vegetables. “Producers can now plan their lettuce production just as they would with industrial products. The lettuce is ready to be harvested precisely 30 days later – whether it is raining or snowing outside, or even a typhoon covering the entire country,” explains Makaru Fujimoto, who advises industrial companies and municipalities interested in breaking into high-tech agriculture. In defending this new trend, plant factory developer Haruhiko Murase from the University of Osaka said: “At some point, climate change will make outdoor cultivation in many parts of the world impossible.”


Picture credit: Joachim Huber / Creative Commons

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