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Climate Refugee Welfare Community Expert Meeting, Spin-off Conversation

Extreme weather events, diminishing natural resources, and conflicts that have resulted from these factors.... The number of people forced to flee their homes and migrate is increasing every year due to such factors.

OSINTech is involved in the Ministry of the Environment of Japan's project for international cooperation against "climate refugees/climate forced migration" caused by climate change by providing RuleWatcher, a project to promote international cooperation communities through industry-government-academia collaboration that contributes to the welfare of climate refugees.

Osamu Arakaki, the chair of this conference, and Masamichi Kobayashi from OSINTech, who is in charge of the "Climate Change Adaptation (Preparing for a Changing Climate)" dataset, discussed this issue from their respective perspectives.

(Edited and directed by Kazue Oda, OSINTech Inc., Translated by Chie Takahashi, OSINTech Inc.)

Osamu Arakaki

Professor at International Christian University. He has been involved in international law and refugee issues for many years. Chairperson of the "Expert Group on Adaptation and International Cooperation Community Promotion Work for the Welfare of Climate Refugees in Industry-Government-Academia Collaboration" led by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan.

Masamichi Kobayashi

First year graduate student at Kansai University. Currently researching disaster prevention and mitigation, and the relationship between climate change and typhoons. He is actively involved in citizen activities related to climate change. Responsible for gathering information on climate change adaptation at OSINTech Inc.

How could we consider the issue as ours?

Mr. Kobayashi:I am currently studying disaster prevention in graduate school. At OSINTech, I am using that to work on the rule trends for Climate Change Adaptation (note: one of the datasets in RuleWatcher, a primary information collection and analysis tool). One of the issues I would like to raise as one of the future generations is how to make it personal for people to think about climate refugees. Many people see it as their own business when it comes to weather disasters, but not when it comes to refugees. There is a primary source in RuleWatcher about a flood in Nigeria. It says that there were nearly 40,000 internally displaced people there. What will be discussed at COP27 this month (Nov 2022) is the need to invest now in climate change emergency preparedness, and Nigeria's problem is a case where this is exactly what is manifesting itself. Unlike climate change mitigation, the demand for adaptation varies from site to site. In this respect, I believe that Japan has knowledge that can be used in developing countries in the field of disaster reduction. How should we, Japan, view climate refugees?

For the future generation

Mr. Arakaki:There were some points to discuss. Every one of them is important, but let us start with the generations. In your generation, there are many people who are seriously concerned with issues such as climate change. Our generation has the responsibility. I have seen the high growth and bubble. What was the payoff of it? Do we force the debt to the next generation? Whether we are a retreating generation or unaware of our former actions, this generation has a responsibility to reflect on what has been done. I also believe that we are in a position where we must think together. The younger generation has potential, is flexible in their thinking, and has views, information, and technology that we do not have at all. Therefore, what we should work on is intergenerational cooperation. Considering the future generations yet to be born, it can be said that both of our generations have a shared responsibility. It is necessary for the generations that exist today to cooperate with each other toward the future.

Is it really a matter that happens far away?

Mr. Arakaki:The next point I would like to discuss is the expression "happening far, far away". This is also true for poverty issues, refugees, and forced displacement, with which I have been involved for a long time. The phrase "on the other side of the earth" is often used to describe these issues. However, are the problems in Nigeria really that far away from Japan? Japan used to be an accepting country for refugees, but if we look at the micro level, we can see that even within Japan, people are losing their homes. This is similar to the problem of infectious diseases; in the 1970s, the expression "the era of infectious diseases is over" appeared, partly because smallpox was eradicated through the cooperation of the WHO and the U.S.-Soviet Union, but then HIV/AIDS started. And then again zoonotic diseases, like this COVID-19. It could not be defended against even in developed countries. Thus, it became apparent that there is no south or north to the challenge of infectious diseases. In this way, we recognized in a negative phase that we, and the planet, are inseparable.

Even people do not cross the border, they are forced to leave their homes.

Mr. Arakaki:The argument in the 1980s and early 1990s was that if climate change became too severe, large numbers of people from the South would flood across the border into the North. The reality, however, is that this is not the case, and the number of internally displaced persons who do not cross the border is overwhelming. In the U.S., the intervention of climate change as a factor in shifting residence is becoming more pronounced. In Japan, too, extreme weather events are probably causing more and more people to leave their homes for weeks or months at a time. In other words, even these people are subject to climate-forced migration. This is already happening in Japan, and it is a universal problem.


Recognition and gap

Mr. Kobayashi:My specialty is disaster prevention and mitigation, and in Japan, earthquakes tend to be the focus of attention, but in recent years, we are rapidly seeing cases of extensive damage caused by typhoons, heavy rains, windstorms, and landslides. I believe that we have come to a point where we have no choice but to acknowledge the forced displacement caused by such weather. When it comes to climate change, the images shown on TV are the usual images of collapsing icebergs in the Arctic and Antarctic, but I think that showing typhoon damage would be more important for Japanese people to understand the importance of the issue. How can we make various issues as our own business that are currently separate from us? I think that these perceptions are divided between generations, but same among young people. I have been working on climate change activities for three years now, and young people who engage in such activities are by no means the majority. There is still a debate over whether climate change is anthropogenic or not. There is also a disconnect between different ways of thinking. As a way to overcome these divisions, I have been working on slogans and ways of communicating. In the climate displacement, there is a great deal of hope for the power of "community", but what are your thoughts on how to create a community that can overcome divisions?

Mr. Arakaki:It's an important yet difficult question. I'm not even sure if we can lump them together as a generation. Even within the same generation, there are differences in perception and temperature. But having said that, there are also differences in solutions by each generational unit. For example, we cannot put out keywords and flags on social networking services for people in their 80s and 90s. There are generational differences in communication methods, while in essence, we all have common problems. It's important to look for and recognize commonalities among each other. As for bridging the perception gap between generations and individuals, we still have to continue tirelessly. For example, we may not be able to prove "absolutely" the anthropogenic origin of climate change, but what will happen if we continue to push forward? We have to make a decision now before the situation becomes irreversible. We must recognize the crisis before waiting for absolute proof. Failure to do so will result in serious problems. This is where a common understanding is required, and communication is necessary. The method of communication will differ greatly depending on the cluster to which each person belongs, so we need to be creative in this regard.

Welfare as a common sense

Another important point is the perspective on Welfare, which is a key word in the "Expert Group on Adaptive International Cooperation Community Promotion Work in Collaboration with Industry, Government and Academia to Contribute to the Welfare of Climate Refugees". What kind of welfare is being damaged differs region to region. Desert areas, forest areas, areas bordering the sea, and urban cities. The concept and scope of welfare that each person has are also different. It is thus difficult to make a uniform discussion in this sphere. With the situation as such, we might say that the concept of "welfare" includes welfare, education, health, and labor. In the modern age, I think that many people are aware of the need to enjoy these things as human beings to some extent. There are regional differences, however, while neither the developed countries nor the developing countries have a clear answer as to how to deal with this situation. I believe that it is precisely when no one has an answer that something new can be created. Both parties should join to create it in order to overcome the whole situation.


Rural and urban areas are analogous to developed and developing countries

Mr. Kobayashi:I agree that it is indeed important to create something new. Looking at the situation in the North and South, I think that we can see a microcosm of this in Japan. For example, in the case of mega-solar and wind power, the urban and outside capital come in, and the local community is not enriched. The local people are being left out of the loop. I think it is important for both parties to find a way to create an answer to prevent this from happening. Regarding the North-South problem, it appears that the developed countries are "giving" to the developing countries, but I believe that behind this is a problem that is not being properly communicated. For example, when the earthquake and tsunami hit Sumatra, Japan and other countries went to the region to provide assistance. When the researchers surveyed the victims, it turned out that they regarded the tsunami disaster itself as if it were a "blessing in disguise". Researchers found that they maintained their mentality by attributing the disaster to "divine punishment," rather than to a lack of scientific response. In such a case, it is not good communication if you see the other party as a mere "target," as if you are imposing the idea in developed countries that the disaster was caused by a lack of countermeasures. I believe this is true not only for disaster relief, but also for climate-forced migration.

Mr. Arakaki:This is another important argument. It is an issue not only in climate change, but in international cooperation in general. What is international cooperation for? Ostensibly, it may be said to be for the development of developing countries or for humanitarian purposes, but from the perspective of realism, it may rather be in the national interest of the donor. For example, during the Cold War, the purpose of providing humanitarian and development assistance was to prevent the target countries from becoming communist. Sometimes beautiful aid ends up being idealistic. When I talk about international aid from the perspective of international politics and history, some first-year college students get upset.

Voice for Climate Justice from the developing countries

Mr. Arakaki:On the other hand, there is a remarkable phenomenon of developing countries voluntarily speaking out. There is a term called "Climate Justice". Climate justice is the assertion that "you, the developed countries, are the ones who caused the problem in the first place". From the standpoint of climate justice, support for developing countries is not charity. Rather, it is an obligation. The important thing is first of all for the developed countries to admit their wrongdoing. After admitting it, if it is difficult to restore the situation to its original state, compensation must be provided. So forced internal displacement can also be discussed in that context. The governments of the countries concerned are directly responsible for the internally displaced persons. However, it may be climate change that has pushed such governments into such a situation. Moreover, the main responsibility may lie on the side of developed countries.

Mr. Kobayashi:As I listen to you, I think the important point is to discuss these crucial subjects without missing any of it. I think one of the solutions is to have that discussion within this community. So, what kind of people should be in this community, what kind of topics and initiatives should there be? What do you think is ideal?

The shape of the ideal community

Mr. Arakaki:From here is just my personal opinion, but I think that when we talk about communities in the "Expert Group on Adaptation and International Cooperation Community Promotion Work in Collaboration with Industry and Academia for the Welfare of Climate Refugees," there are diverse ways to talk about them. It would be ideal if we could analyze climate forced migration from various groups and academic disciplines. However, this conference has only been in motion for a few months, in July of this year, and the number of committee members is limited. Of course, the participating committee members are all very competent people. Even so, everyone's area of expertise is limited. However, the obvious target audience for the conference is those who are suffering in the midst of climate-forced migration. In other words, those whose "Welfare" is being problematic, as the name of the conference implies. Welfare refers to social values such as health, well‐being, education, and labor. People whose welfare is affected by their inability to be in a place, or by being in a place that puts them in danger. Our conference now could be described as an EPISTEMIC COMMUNITY (note: a community of shared perceptions) of professionals. This epistemic community with shared underlying beliefs and policy orientation, however, would ideally rather evolve out of it in the future. I believe that at some stage in the near future, the parties who are subject to forced displacement themselves should participate in this conference. We are now in the stage of preparing the foundation for that. While we are building that foundation, it would be desirable to have more and more young people like Mr. Kobayashi, people from different backgrounds, a wide range of researchers and practitioners, etc., come into this conference. Like people who have something to say, "I want to do this! and people who have "started to do this" will gather together. I personally hope that the conference will be substantiated in such a way that it will become such a place.


"Environmental lense" to connect the single issues

Mr. Kobayashi:I would like to ask you about your past activities and how your perception differs from those of others around you. In my case, I became interested in environmental issues when I learned about pollution in elementary school. At that time, the first thing I learned about were the four major pollution problems in Japan, and although it was described as a historical event that was solved already, environmental issues such as climate change have moved to a new phase and left a strong impression on me. However, not many of my classmates, even though they received the same kind of education as I did, perceived the situation in the same way. They did not have the same perceptions as I did, and I have had a hard time spreading empathy among my generation.

Mr. Arakaki:I specialize in international law, with minors in international politics and peace studies. While primarily researching forced migration, the issues of the environment and climate change overlapped. That was about 15 years ago, and at that time these issues were mainly discussed outside of Japan. In the process, I was able to network with researchers and practitioners abroad. "Environmental lens," including climate change, has become more comprehensive. Even though we see various phenomena in a discrete way, the environmental lens is essential to connect them. For example, even if we look at a single infectious disease, the focus of attention in prevention is on the maintenance, protection, and preservation of ecosystems. These are issues such as how to maintain social distance between humans and animals, and how to prevent zoonotic diseases. It is necessary to connect these issues that have been disparate in dots with lines and link them together to visualize them in a three-dimensional way. We should have known this by now, but humans are fools and do not seriously tackle such issues until a crisis like the COVID-19 comes along.

Since 2020, people around the world have taken identical actions, as seen in the self-restraint and staying home, right? Few times on our planet have we had so much common action at the same time. Ironically, I feel that it was only after the crisis that we indeed united. This was remarkable. I believe that humanity can learn from these experiences, not giving up. It is too late to do so after the big blow that there is no way back.

Diversity holds a key

Mr. Kobayashi:I think that the climate issue is a multi-issue and the way we perceive it is important. The correct way to look at it is probably not that various issues are piled up, but that they appear to overlap when viewed through the lens of "the climate issue". The difference in the way we perceive these issues comes from the value we hold, such as the way we live. How do we create or raise a common awareness of issues while looking through these different lenses? Until now, my opinion from a position of organizing youth organizations has been that we want large organizations to act. For example, we would ask politicians to do so. However, I am beginning to feel that thinking in this way is leaving the problem to others. How can people with different lenses come to a common understanding?

Mr. Arakaki:Individual differences are rather beneficial and valuable. However, there are commonalities and universals hidden in diversity, so we must be aware of them. Take life, for example. In every culture and religion, life has been a central issue. Even if there are differences in the way climate change is viewed and its causes are manifested, I think it is important to have a common awareness of its impact on life and livelihood. We should have different ways of thinking. I think it is important to have commonality and universality in spite of diversity.


Can voluntarism work out?

Editor:I was very impressed with the way this organization was presented by the Ministry of Environment at the beginning of the first meeting of the Expert Meeting. This organization is "not a council of experts, it is a community. The community has no responsibilities or obligations. There is no employment relationship. The reward is admiration from others.", which in other words is that is voluntary. Though now the population is over 8 billion, the struggle for resources has begun, and even land that can withstand climate change will be fought over more and more in the future. With such a struggle for what little we have, I simply wonder how we are going to nurture a voluntary community. On the other hand, however, we also have the experience of being driven to help others, with an awareness of what we can do now in response to this crisis, both at the time of the Hanshin-Awaji and Tohoku earthquakes. What is your outlook on the spirit of human voluntarism?

Mr. Arakaki:Do you know who won the Nobel Peace Prize 100 years ago? Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer. He is best known as an Arctic explorer, but he was also the first High Commissioner for Refugees. During his time as High Commissioner, he was criticized by diplomats and others as an idealist who only cared about charity and did not know anything about realpolitik. He responded to his critics by saying, "Charity is the realpolitik". "Benevolence is realpolitik". At the root of his thought was the spirit of solidarity. 100 years ago, just after the end of World War I, the world was in pieces. He said that if the world were to fall apart, war would break out again, and that if each country pursued its own interests alone, the world would be in danger of falling into that crisis. In short, we should not help refugees because we feel sorry for them. If we become a society that excludes such people and leaves them alone, the whole society will eventually break down, and we will lose our footing. In such a society, peace and security will not last. That is why Nansen said, "Charity is realpolitik". Not mere pity for the poor. He said that the spirit of solidarity will eventually lead us to ourselves and to the future.

Editor:It is a similar view with what you pointed out while ago that what's happening in Nigeria is not far from Japan. I wonder if we are running out of time, but would you like to ask something to Mr. Kobayashi, Mr. Arakaki?

Subcommittee and task force

Mr. Arakaki:It is just my personal opinion, but if a subcommittee or task force is formed in the future, I would like people like you to join it and do the actual work. If such a framework were to be formed, how would you like to work?

Mr. Kobayashi:Many people who are interested in social issues have one thing in common: they are hungry for the "opportunity". Therefore, I would be very happy if we could join a subcommittee or task force. When we try to do something, our reach is only one hand's length away. Thus, it is very helpful to have a hand there to reach out and I believe we can move forward by answering it. Whenever I have such an opportunity, I would like to do it vigorously. In my case, disaster prevention and mitigation are an area of strong interest, so I can use my strength there. Also, we have been working on our own in the climate movement area, but I think a task force would allow us to prioritize our efforts with advice, while keeping our passion intact.

Mr. Kobayashi:Thank you very much for today's conversation.


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