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Can Abenomics Cope with Environmental Disaster? via Japan Focus

By Andrew DeWit

Geographically, the Global Climate Risk Index 2013 shows that the countries most affected in 2011 were Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, El Salvador and the Philippines.7 A more comprehensive and nearly real-time accounting of climate risk and adaptive capacity has been pioneered since 2011 by the Alliance Development Works/Bundnis Entwichlung Hilft, a coalition of German development and relief agencies.8 Working in conjunction with the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security,9 the Nature Conservatory,10 and others, they have compiled the World Risk Report. In addition to the worsening effects of climate change, the Report’s risk-weighting takes into account social and economic factors relevant to adaptation and disaster response.
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Incredibly, Japan’s immense wealth – second only to that of the US – was not enough to offset its exposure, and its risk assessment placed it 15th. This is in sharp contrast with the other developed states, as the US is ranked at 127th (3.99%) and Germany is 146th (3.24%).
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Notwithstanding drawing-board fantasies of small-modular reactors, it seems very unlikely that a nuclear-powered model will become the mainstream resilient community. Like other centralized power, nuclear is reliant on lots of water as well as threatened by – at the risk of seeming glib – lots of water. Perhaps this is one reason – for all their professed interest in climate change – the nuclear village do not talk about the death of stationarity: addressing the reality of climate change highlights their centralized power plants’ vulnerability to the increasingly unpredictable elements. Moreover, there is no nuclear energy project that is not reliant on extensive and far more generous government subsidies than those directed to renewables, which in fact are already competitive – even against natural gas and coal – in parts of the United States, Australia, and elsewhere.48 At this critical juncture, for Japan to choose restarts, let alone more nuclear build, would likely see it evolve into a high cost, uncompetitive and environmentally unsustainable Galapagos. It would undermine its incentives to move ahead in renewables and efficiency. But were Japan to choose radical efficiency and renewables, with its ambitious ICT growth strategy at the core, and coordinated by a focused cabinet and Prime Minister, it could become the model for a sustainable and resilient 21st-century urban and rural economy. We have seen that Japan itself is threatened by climate change, along with its region overall, so building resilience into all infrastructures is truly in its own existential self-interest as well as its enlightened self-interest as an exporter. This argument has not yet gained the status of common sense in the overall policy debate, but Koizumi’s interventions suggest it is much closer to gaining that position than the nuclear-centered power economy. The nuclear-centered power economy was the reigning common sense of just a few years ago, but its apparent decline suggests how rapidly the structure of incentives and ideas can shift. Can Abenomics recognize this reality and effectively address the real challenge of climate change that threatens Japan and the world?

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