Extreme weather conditions are commonplace in today’s global environmental realities. Heat waves become more frequent, more intense and longer lasting during the summer months. The northern hemisphere is no exception, with countries from the UK to China to Italy sweltering in intense heat.
Yet even against the backdrop of our new climate certainties, the recent heat wave in Japan is extraordinary. Temperatures reached over 104 degrees (40 degrees Celsius) for the first time on record for the month of June. On July 3 in Tokyo, the temperatures exceeded 95 degrees (35 Celsius) for the ninth consecutive day – the longest streak since record keeping began in 1875. Hundreds of deaths have been attributed to heat, and almost 5,000 people went to the hospital seek treatment for heat stroke and exhaustion for only a few days. The majority of these patients are elderly people, who make up a significant portion of Japan’s aging population.
These extreme temperatures so early in the summer raise concerns about what could happen, with August usually being one of the hottest months in Japan. But concerns go far beyond those of comfort: the unusual heat, combined with the current geopolitical instability, has laid bare the fragility of Japan’s energy system.
Since shutting down most of its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima accident in 2011, and more recently shutting down coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions, Japan relies mainly on imports of liquefied natural gas. Liquefied natural gas cannot be stored and costs exponentially more due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global sanctions that reacted.