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Bern scientists explain climate change to Japan

9 July 2015

Researchers at the Oeschger Centre play an important role in a Japanese documentary. At least 10 million will see this production by state TV station NHK.

Bern scientists explain climate change to Japan

Japanese documentary maker Okada Tomoharu chose the locations of his latest project wisely: leading climate research centres in the US (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Georgia Tech, University of Alaska), the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics in Prague and now the Oeschger Centre. “We came to Bern because we were looking for answers to the question of whether there are patterns in the climate of the past,” says Tomoharu, “which would help explain the effect that climate change will have in the future.”

Okada Tomoharu learnt of the Oeschger Centre via the organisation PAGES (Past Global Changes), which is also based in Bern, and its 2k project. Here, researchers from around the world collaborate with the help of natural archives to reconstruct the last 2000 years of climate history. Among them are Japanese scientists who recommended that the film crew feature the past climate expertise of their colleagues in Bern.

Filming in the ice core lab and at Lake Gerzensee

As a result, Japan’s state TV station, NHK, filmed at the ice core lab of the OCCR group “Past Climate and Biogeochemical Studies on Ice Cores”, interviewed members of the “Lake Sediments and Paleolimnology” group and observed the field work of the “Terrestrial Paleoecology” group at Lake Gerzensee.

The 60-minute climate research film will be broadcast in early September during prime evening airtime. However, the prominent platform doesn’t necessarily mean that the Japanese are especially interested in climate issues. “People here are concerned about natural disasters, which affect our country regularly,” says Okada Tomoharu, “Climate change and its consequences worry people less.” So the filmmaker is trying to rouse interest in climate change indirectly. His documentary will show, among other things, how climate change influences extreme weather events like storms and flooding.

The film is part of a series called “Mega Disasters” featuring, among other things, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. However, director Tomoharu says that the English title is misleading as the series explains the occurrence of natural disasters in a sober rather than sensationalist manner.

Climate research in flagship programme

The veteran documentary maker – accompanied by a camera operator, a sound engineer and a translator – studied physics and made a name for himself with the film “Google’s Deep Impact”. Today he’s a producer in the news department of NHK – a media giant with about 10,000 employees – and makes films for “NHK Special”, the daily flagship programme. Tomoharu says that in Japan alone, some 10 million people will see his climate film, which took him six months to make. If the film is broadcast in other Asian countries, it could reach 100 million viewers.

Because of their experience with earthquakes and tsunamis, are the Japanese especially tuned in to the issue of climate change? “No,” says Okada Tomoharu, “What people are really concerned with is their economic future. But Japan probably isn’t any different than elsewhere.”

Although he himself is convinced of the urgency of the climate problem, in his work, Tomoharu holds back with his comments on climate policy. “At a state broadcaster you have to be careful; political messages have to be subtly packaged.” Indeed, Japan hasn’t played much of a leadership role in terms of climate policy recently. At the UN climate summit in Warsaw in 2013, the Japanese delegation announced that Japan wanted to cut just 3.1 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions, down from the targeted reduction of 25 per cent.

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