EACH MONTH, Covering Climate Now speaks with different journalists about their climate experiences and their ideas for advancing our profession. This week, we spoke with Keisuke Katori, science journalist for the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers. Previously, Katori was a foreign correspondent for the newspaper, based in Washington, DC. We talked about current events coverage cop27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, a media collaboration in Japan highlighting the importance of the United Nations goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the world’s worrying return to coal . The conversation, with CCNow Deputy Director Andrew McCormick, has been edited for length and clarity. Follow Katori on Twitter.
How did you become interested in climate history?
At university, I was interested in conflicts and the causes of wars. I wanted to become a foreign correspondent and write about it for the Japanese people. I joined the Asahi Shimbun after school and, as is customary in Japanese media, I was first assigned to a regional bureau in Japan to be trained as a journalist, covering everything from local government to social and sports issues . Later, when I was transferred to the head office in Tokyo, I told my bosses that I wanted to cover environment and energy. I felt that these would be important topics in the years to come and that environmental and energy crises could be the sparks that would lead to war, like what is happening in Ukraine today.
Covering these issues has led to covering the climate negotiations. I learned how serious climate change is and how it contributes to many disasters unfolding before our eyes around the world. When the Paris Agreement was signed in cop21, in 2015, it was a very exciting time. A goal had been set for companies to decarbonize, and I boarded the plane from Paris to Tokyo thinking, “Wow, the world is going to change.” But life went on as before; there have been no significant changes from government or industry. Based on everything I had learned, I knew that was not the way to go, so I decided to write even more about climate change.
For context, can you talk about how climate change is affecting Japan?
Recently we had heat waves in the summer exceeding 40 degrees C [104 degrees Fahrenheit]. Intense and heavy rains over very short periods of time occur more frequently. And food systems have also been affected. In September, we published an article titled “Climate change from the kitchen tablewhich summarized the declining quality of Japanese rice and the effects of ocean warming on local fisheries. My colleague and I also researched how excessive heat has led to preschools across the country. limit outdoor play for children.
I don’t know if most Japanese understand that the cause of all this is global warming. Japan is an island country and also a very mountainous country, and earthquakes, volcanic activity, and other environmental disasters have always been common here. People are used to that. But recently, thanks to weather attribution studies, we are better able to understand the link between climate change and today’s disasters. According to attribution science, for example, the great heat wave that hit Japan this summer was 240 times more likely due to climate change.
How have these changes translated into the Japanese press?
I believe that Japanese media editors and reporters know how important climate change and the environment are. But historically, we didn’t always know how to cover these issues and there was a belief that the public was not very attracted to these topics. Recently it has improved.
Earlier this year, for example, media outlets in Japan came together to create a media coverage campaign raising awareness of the importance of the UN’s 1.5°C target and encouraging climate action. The campaign is called “The 1.5 Degree Promise: Act Now to Stop Global Warming”, which began in September around the United Nations General Assembly and ends with cop27 later this month. In many ways, the campaign resembles Cover weeks of joint Climate Now coverage; it’s a good excuse for outlets to do a lot about climate change. Major Japanese TV channels – NHK, Fuji TV, TBS, etc. – aired joint commercials and programs, inviting many researchers and policy makers to their studios to discuss climate change. A popular fashion magazine published a special issue on the climate. And the Asahi Shimbun has created a special website, with a range of feature articles and interviews on the 1.5°C target. During cop27, we also had daily climate change quizzes in the newspaper.
What are some of the Asahi Shimbunthe priorities of cop27 coverage?
This cop is very important, because it takes place in the midst of the invasion of Ukraine, a global energy crisis and many climatic disasters around the world. We have a team of reporters in Sharm el-Sheikh, including two reporters from Tokyo and our reporter in Egypt, and I work as cop27 office worker in Tokyo. So far we have written, for example, about how countries are rolling back their climate commitments. This cop is also a good opportunity to introduce the Japanese people to the concept of “loss and damage”, which means compensation for lives, infrastructure and economic destruction caused by climate change. I asked Asahi Shimbun correspondents across the Global South to cover disasters and climatic suffering – to show the lives of people in Pakistan and West Africa, for example, who experience major floods.
Speaking of countries going backwards: a few years ago we might have said that coal power was firmly on the sidelines. But recently we have seen a return to coal in major countries, including China, India and Japan. How did you cover that?
After the Fukushima accident in 2011, Japan’s nuclear power plants were shut down. There were then sixty nuclear power plants, but today only about five are still operational. Coal power, which is cheap and readily available, makes up much of the difference. This is a major contradiction in our country, as the Japanese government has otherwise declared a goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. They say they can reduce emissions, even if they continue to use coal , with a mixture of biomass and hydrogen, but the reductions of these alternative energy sources are in fact only marginal. And Japan remains one of the first countries to publicly fund fossil fuels. So net zero engagement is more like an empty promise.
But the meaning of this contradiction can be difficult to communicate to the public. The best way to mitigate climate change is to stop using coal and other fossil fuels, but at the same time, of course, we need energy today. So our readers feel a little helpless and don’t know what to think. My colleagues in the press room and I discuss this a lot, and our decision was to do more coverage of alternative energy solutions. Interest in renewable energy is growing, but not as rapidly as it would need to help stem climate change. So we want to show our audience more about these alternatives and how they can help increase conservation and efficiency.
How do you make the issue of loss and damage relevant to the daily reader in Japan?
I always think about that. In Japan, the reaction to disasters elsewhere is often “Oh, that’s none of my business. It’s a sad story, but it’s very far from Tokyo, and I don’t know what I can do. This is the normal reaction. But similar weather disasters are happening in Japan. We had major flooding and landslides. Due to sea level rise, the beach disappears in some places. People are moving inland, to avoid disasters on the coast and along the rivers. I think it’s important to relate these changes to the huge amount of greenhouse gases that Japan has emitted…[Japan is the world’s fifth largest greenhouse-gas emitter, behind China, the US, India, and Russia]- and to show how our broadcasts, in part, ultimately contribute to similar disasters abroad.
During the recent floods in Pakistan, our science team wrote about how climate change drives heavy rains and how it alters seasonal monsoons, comparing the effects in Pakistan to the effects here. Similarly, when Europe had bad heat waves and droughts, we linked them to the heat waves here and showed how global warming was a factor.
Japan hosted the Summer Olympics last year. Do you have any advice for journalists covering the upcoming World Cup in Qatar on how to include the climate in the conversation?
From the start of the bid process for the Tokyo Summer Olympics and throughout its planning, the oppressive heat has raised concerns. In September 2019, when the Asahi Shimbun joined Covering Climate Now, we wrote an article pointing out this problem and the danger to the lives of athletes.
In general, we constantly try to connect sport and climate, because sport provides a great opportunity to speak to the public about climate change and attract new audiences to the climate story. Studies have shown that in a warmer world, the number of suitable venues for events such as the Olympics and the World Cup will decrease significantly, along with athlete safety. During the Winter Olympics in Beijing this year, our sports reporter wrote a long dossier on the sustainability of winter sports after seeing all the ski resorts with no snow. Recently, the same journalist used Climate Central’s sea level rise forecasting tool to write an article about how some professional baseball stadiums in Japan should sink into the ocean. The main point is this: there is no escaping the effects of climate change. And there is no exception for sports or any other aspect of our lives.
Covering Climate Now is an international journalism collaboration co-founded by CJR and The nationin partnership with The Guardian, strengthening the coverage of climate history. Follow CCNow on Twitter and visit coveringclimatenow.org.
TOP IMAGE: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a speech at COP26. Credit: 首相官邸ホームページ via Wikimedia Commons