The Climate Crisis: Emergency on Japan’s ‘lucky island’ (Jialing and Nicole)

In this article by The Japan Times, Chase-Lubitz and Boyd (2020) describe the circumstances of Iki Island, located in Nagasaki Prefecture, being the first place in Japan to declare a climate emergency and lay out plans to combat the impending consequences of accelerated climate change. Despite being less affected by natural disasters than other nearby regions, the community’s agricultural and fishing industries currently witness dire effects on yield and income stemming from climate change, hence prompting the local government to take action.

The article presents Japan as a country that is highly vulnerable to the devastating impacts of climate change and rural depopulation. On a local scale, this is reflected by Iki Island’s encounters with heavy torrential rains, resulting in landslides and crop loss, and rising sea temperatures, leading to the decline in local seaweed beds and fish population. Such circumstances decrease the yield and income of farmers and fishermen. Coupled with the fact that residences on the island are concentrated around its coasts, prone to sea level rise, these may be some of the key push factors which encourage locals to seek employment in other more urban parts of Japan. The above hints at the uneven geographical distribution of climate change impacts, where coastal communities are much more vulnerable to these threats as compared to urban metropolises located further inland. Even among Iki Island’s residents, those whose livelihoods are heavily dependent on weather and sea conditions tend to be more informed of the effects of climate change, as opposed to inland business owners who may be blissfully unaware. This illustrates how attitudes towards environmental issues also vary across demographics and social groups.

Iki Island is perceived as “green” for its determination to address climate change by raising awareness among its inhabitants, and supporting them in reaching sustainability goals by planning to increase the island’s reliance on renewable energy sources and incorporate artificial intelligence to optimise the efficiency of its agricultural sector. These have also inspired the city of Kamakura and Nagano Prefecture to take similar actions. However, the article emphasises that these declarations must be supported by commitment from both the authorities and the people in order to generate a lasting impact of environmental sustainability. This aligns with Kirby (2011)’s assertion on how ideas like sustainability can be easily manipulated for various agendas and understood differently by distinct stakeholders. There remains a possibility that local governments may use climate emergency declarations as a “greenwashing” technique and fail to follow up on their promises, hence putting coastal communities like Iki Island in a more difficult situation due to the power disparity between authorities and the people.

Despite the increasing attention paid to environmental issues, economic growth and development still seem to take priority on Iki Island. The city plans on expanding its cattle farming and aviation sectors, which both contribute to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, as these are essential in boosting the island’s economic development. This corresponds with Kirby (2011)’s observations that sustainable development in Japan seems to be heavily focused on the aspect of development, rather than the environment. Expanding on Robbins (2019)’s concept of political ecology, we see how various political, economic and social factors influence environmental decisions. Iki Island’s sustainability strategies are carefully selected to ensure that they can fulfill their “green” aspirations without having to over-compromise on economic growth, which is crucial for its coastal community to continue sustaining itself and avoid the fate of depopulation as seen in other rural parts of Japan. 

Overall, Iki Island’s strategies to become a “green” example for the rest of Japan are a result of, and restrained by political ecology.

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Chase-Lubitz, Jesse, and Oscar Boyd. 2020. “The Climate Crisis: Emergency On ‘Lucky Island’”. The Japan Times. Accessed 13 July, 2020.

Kirby, Peter Wynn. 2011. Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. Honolulu, HI, USA: University of Hawai’i Press.

Robbins, Paul. 2019. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. 3rd ed. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.