Climate change is increasingly affecting Japan. Increasingly severe typhoons, increasingly hot summers and elevated sea levels are real and affecting many lives. However, few people in Japan accurately understand such threats or the urgent need for action.
Moreover, Japan is the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter on earth. Greenhouse gas emission from Japan has a global impact. Unless citizens of Japan address climate change extensively, the Japanese government would not consider changing the current trajectory. In the meantime, chimneys continue to emit greenhouse gases into the sky.
Kimiko Hirata, who has been working on preventing climate change in Japan for many years, was thinking that this situation needs to be changed. On the other hand, she was also aware of some deep-rooted problems in the country: almost no citizen-led activities, which could send strong messages to the community, are taking place in Japan; Japanese people strongly value harmony; and those who explicitly express their political views are taking the risk that they may be shunned by the community. Kimiko also thought that in order for any kind of climate-related education to be effective, the education must link Japanese culture and overseas cultures. She therefore considered that climate-related education in Japan must not give the audience an impression that the education is merely an extension of activities that have been introduced to Japan by non-Japanese groups.
Kimiko came up with the following solution: she would set up a Japan branch of The Climate Reality Project. She decided to build a unique organization that takes into account Japanese culture and perspectives. Kimiko was aware of potential impacts that the Japanese corporate sector could have not only on greenhouse gas emission but also on government policy making. She therefore started providing training to citizen and corporate representatives while also implementing outreach projects.
Upon the implementation of her plans, Kimiko realized that while many people are willing to learn more about climate crises, they are finding it difficult to take action. She particularly felt that taking the first step is the hardest part for them. Given such a situation, Kimiko issued a message which not only described the real-time changes that Japan has been experiencing due to climate crises but also focused on the necessity for collecting opinions and ideas of Japanese people in addressing climate crises. This message helped Japanese people realize that they can play an important role at global forums where solutions to climate change are discussed.
As Climate Reality Leaders continue to speak to members of communities in a bid to find solutions that can be implemented within Japan, it gradually became apparent that the approach taken by The Climate Reality Project may open the door to new possibilities. Climate Reality Leaders from the Japanese corporate sector are providing a forum for discussing sustainability and clean energy. They are committed to the advancement of the current movement, instead of opposing the current policies. It is expected that trying out new approaches that address issues specific to Japan can lead to the gradual development of climate change prevention efforts that are being made across Japan.
What follows describes views and opinions held by Kimiko Hirata, Evan Gach and Yuiko Mitani as to what they are planning to communicate to those who are about to put forward proposals for addressing climate change to new audiences.
“Cultural backgrounds — Approaches to motivating people and thereby effectively causing changes vary depending on the audience’s cultural background. Importance of awareness — We need to be aware that people’s behaviors represent their home community and members thereof which are unique to their home country. Changes can start with understanding at a very basic level — Recognition of, and education on, an issue can motivate people. This is the most important starting point in addressing any issue.”
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In Their Own Words
Please tell us the issues that you have identified. Can you also tell us what kind of solutions you think could address such issues?
Japan is one of the major greenhouse gas emitters. Compared to other developed nations, policies formulated and implemented in Japan are not up-to-date (i.e., the Japanese government is still building coal-fired power plants and does not have any specific roadmap). Almost no citizen-led or community-led climate change activities are taking place in the country. This is primarily due to low climate literacy as well as a lack of understanding of the urgency of issues and what needs to be changed in order to resolve issues. Japan’s culture has also been contributing to this situation. Activism is rarely seen in Japan, and explicitly expressing political views can be received negatively by the community. Moreover, we consider that Japan is lacking means and strategies that could lead relatively conservative Japanese communities and strong industries, which are keen on protecting their existing privileges, to start making changes. On top of that, there are almost no opportunities available in Japan where people could start taking action. Resources and knowledge for generating such opportunities are very limited in this country.
What is your insight into such issues? Also, what are the goals that you want to accomplish?
We aim to provide support to people in Japan in raising their awareness of climate change and taking action toward systematic changes. In order to achieve this, we launched The Climate Reality Project in Japan and have been utilizing the Project’s organization, resources, knowledge bases and networks. We would like to help Japanese citizens, corporations, governments and other sectors raise their awareness of climate change. We therefore started training Climate Reality Leaders in Japan and offering tools and resources that are designed to help people start taking action. We also thought we should connect people in Japan with those who have been working on climate change-related issues outside Japan. In order to do this, we thought we would need to empower local communities through a local-centered approach to climate crises (while maintaining the balance between solutions specific to Japan and global solutions).
Why is this solution important for your country and local communities?
One of the reasons lies in the fact that Japan is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emission (currently, Japan is the 5th largest greenhouse gas emitter on earth). Another reason is that they (both governments/corporations and citizens) are lacking a sense of urgency when it comes to action to prevent climate change. It is important that the Japanese government and Japanese citizens fully understand the following: causes and impacts of climate change; a fair approach to transitioning to a zero-carbon society; and how we can successfully transition to a zero-carbon society that takes into account situations specific to Japan while collaborating with other countries across the globe. It is also important that more people take part in this movement and jointly develop solutions.
What is the most significant challenge that you have faced so far?
The biggest challenge for the Japan branch has been the organization’s capacity. Our branch has only recently been launched, and we have a very limited number of staff. We have also experienced cultural barriers. When The Climate Reality Project tries to pass its message to citizens of Japan, we need to overcome numerous culture-related challenges which are unique to Japan. We need a different form of activism for Japan as many Japanese people value harmony and avoid assertively expressing different views from others.
For most Japanese people, the biggest challenge would be to take the first step after completing training (while many are enthusiastic about participating in learning opportunities, they do not take action). We work with Climate Reality Leaders from many different walks of life. In Japan, the majority of leaders belong to the corporate sector, but there are still some who belong to the central government or a local government. Compared to branches in other countries, the Japan branch has fewer young leaders and activists.
This means that expectations significantly vary between different sectors and groups. It is therefore important for us to pay particular attention to the contents of messages to be sent out as well as the impression that our organization may give to the audience. We are an environmental organization new to Japan. We need to act differently from existing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country so that we can avoid competition against similar projects, including venture projects, that have been implemented by other Japanese NGOs.
It has also been challenging for us to build a strong rapport with the industry. We have also found it challenging to communicate with the current conservative administration, which is stable and strong. People tend to feel apathy.
What have you implemented, and what have you achieved?
We set up an action group with a particular focus on select themes. We then connected Climate Reality Leaders with each other and encouraged them to take specific actions. We have been providing comprehensive knowledge related to climate change in a timely manner. In parallel with this, we have also been developing educational recourses to help readers reflect on systems currently in use which can cause climate change while critically analyzing what they could do to prevent climate change. We hold webinars, which connect leaders in Japan with the Climate Reality Network. The Network is operating across the globe. We are committed to introducing global perspectives to Japan while sharing Japanese perspectives with other parts of the world through the use of the Network. We are aiming to posit The Climate Reality Project Japan as a unique organization that originated in Japan, not merely as a Japan branch of a foreign organization.
Please tell us your main stakeholders and main partners.
Kiko Network, Climate Integrate and many other Japanese environmental NGOs have provided support to The Climate Reality Project Japan in developing and implementing training and launching our Japan branch.
What kind of insights, ideas or proposals would you give to those who are planning to take action through means similar to yours?
Cultural backgrounds — Approaches to motivating people and thereby effectively causing changes vary depending on the audience’s cultural background. Importance of awareness — We need to be aware that people’s behaviors represent their home community and members thereof which are unique to their home country. Changes can start with understanding at a very basic level — Recognition of, and education on, an issue can motivate people. This is the most important starting point in addressing any issue.
How have your actions facilitated fairness?
Sharing Japanese perspectives with people from other parts of the world. Helping Japanese people see climate justice issues as well as the burdens imposed on people living in certain parts of the world due to climate change; helping Japanese people listen to different opinions from other parts of the world and understand global perspectives and issues, given that few Japanese people are aware of such perspectives and issues. We are also keen on helping Japanese people face climate justice issues which have been present within their own country, and this is part of our future plan.