Visit to Soma and Odaka plus workshop – September 2019

We chose late September for the Japan workshop of our project ‘Building Resilience to Environmental Change in Marginalised Coastal Communities’, supported by the ESRC-AHRC UK-Japan Social Sciences and Humanities Connections fund. Along with myself as Principal Investigator, my RGU colleagues Dr Leon Moller of the Law School and Yi-Chen Huang of the School of Applied Social Studies travelled to Japan for a week of presentations, discussion and site visits.

We were hosted by our Co-Principal Investigator Prof Midori Kawabe at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, and joined also by our Co-Investigators Dr Jun Kita and Dr Hiromitsu Onchi of the Marine Ecology Research Institute. For the first two classroom-based days, TUMSAT masters students taking Prof Kawabe’s Education for Sustainable Development course also sat in for the presentations and discussion.

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Team photo at TUMSAT

Day one was given over to getting to know what everyone does, as a foundation for identifying linkages between our different disciplinary backgrounds. Yi-Chen kicked us off with an overview of the environmental impact assessment controversy surrounding the Miramar Resort in eastern Taiwan, before Leon gave a very comprehensive overview of the laws of the sea. After an informative presentation from Onchi-san on the work of MERI (his first ever presentation in English!), Kita-san gave a very informative and useful talk on what natural scientists need from social scientists for effective environmental assessment. In the last session of the day, I used the Twitter controversy around the 2018/19 Hokkaido earthquakes and the Tomakomai CCS project as a case study of how natural and social sciences collide in unexpected ways.

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Dr Jun Kita of MERI presenting on what natural scientists need from social scientists

 

The second day acted as an introduction to the existing RGU-TUMSAT work on the coast of Fukushima Prefecture – one of our study sites for the project. This started with a straightforward description of the geography in Fukushima and an overview of what happened in 2011, followed by a technical presentation from Prof Kawabe on the process of fisheries restarts. I then took over again and the session descended into a bewildering overview of the culture of coastal Fukushima, covering everything from Rakuo Café au Lait and deep-fried mehikari, through to Tamayakko Kitagawa and Naraha Channel community TV. Rather more earnestly, the purpose of this session was to give those unfamiliar with the context an opportunity to think about what they might like to ask later in the week…

…which leads nicely to 9.08am Wednesday morning, when six of us loaded onto Hayabusa 8 and shot off in the direction of the Fukushima coast. Two trains (and one near-miss with a self-heating bento box in which I almost scalded myself with steam) later, we were at the Soma-Futaba Fisheries Cooperative Association headquarters. There, six officers from Fukushima Prefecture and a team from the cooperative were putting on an international workshop, and had gathered eleven fishers to tell us about life as a fisher in Fukushima in 2019. The prefectural fisheries officers did a great job facilitating the discussion and noting down the key points. An interesting dimension to the afternoon concerned translation. One table (mine) operated in Japanese, with translation from Soma Dialect for my benefit. A second table, where Leon was sitting, had Japanese-English translation thanks to Wakamori-san, a bilingual undergraduate TUMSAT student who grew up in the USA. The third table, where Yi-Chen was, used Japanese-Chinese translation thanks to the presence of Gu-san, another TUMSAT student who had joined us for the trip to Fukushima. After an afternoon of intense discussion, we had the chance to sample some local seafood (and sake) during dinner with the fisheries officers.

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Workshop with fishers at Soma Fishing Port

It was then up early for breakfast and onto the Joban Line south to Odaka in Minamisoma. Odaka was evacuated following the nuclear accident, and the evacuation order remained in place until 2015. Since then, the community has seen significant revitalisation effort, which Karin Taira (proprietor of The Lantern House and a fellow University of Edinburgh graduate) met us off the train to show us. Over half a day we saw a market of fresh farm produce grown by a cooperative of female farmers, tried local sushi, sampled high-quality coffee from Odaka Micro Stand Bar, and heard from the owner of the Futabaya Ryokan, who returned after the disaster to re-establish her business. Yoshikawa-san of Appreciate Fukushima Workers also stopped by to share some insights on the debate on whether to release water containing tritium from the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

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Hearing from Karin Taira of The Lantern House in Odaka

Unsurprisingly, everyone fell asleep on the shinkansen home.

Some of us were still asleep on the last morning too, as we worked to identify areas of interest and possible research questions based on the previous days’ discussions. Nonetheless, we finished on time and with a good consensus on the next steps. Thanks most of all to Prof Kawabe for arranging everything at one of the busiest times of the year for their university!

Thank you as always to the Economic and Social Research Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for supporting this work under grant number ES/S013296/1

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Soma Fishing Port

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A bit of perspective on the Daily Mail article on surfing in Fukushima

A clickbait post has appeared in the Daily Mail (I don’t encourage you to click, but if you want to check for yourself the link is at the end of this post) discussing the reopening of beaches on the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. While there is nothing factually wrong with the article, there is a lot of sensationalist language in there which needs some contextualising.

First, the article starts “Japanese daredevil surfers are risking radioactive water and sand to ride the waves”. Nobody is ‘risking’ anything. The water, seabed and indeed the fish within it are regularly monitored, hence why the beaches have been reopened. When I visited Misaki Park (a bit further south), families with kids were playing on the beach.

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Tairausuiso Beach (just round the cape from Tairatoyoma Beach) in 2014, with Shioyazaki Lighthouse. Note the 3 men sitting on the steps having lunch!

We are then told “Haunting images show empty streets, broken houses and gravestone near to Tairatoyoma beach”. This may well be true, but in this part of coastal Fukushima, broken houses and gravestones will be the result of lingering tsunami damage rather than evacuation orders. Indeed, the nearest area still under evacuation order is 40km to the north. Tairatoyoma was badly hit by the tsunami, that is true, but was never evacuated for reasons of radiation. I went to Toyoma in 2014 to interview fishers, and also stopped by the memorial to Japanese diva Hibari Misora, just round the corner at Shioyazaki Lighthouse.

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Map of key places mentioned on Fukushima coast

The article comes with a selection of photos of abandoned streets and houses, which are “believed to have been photographed in Futaba.” This could refer to either Futaba County (the municipality which makes up Fukushima Prefecture’s central coast, where evacuation orders have slowly been lifted since 2012), or Futaba Township (the remains under evacuation order township immediately north of the Fukushima Dai’Ichi Nuclear Power Plant). In either case, the nearest location which could be called ‘Futaba’ is a good 20km north of Tairatoyoma beach.

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Beach at Misaki, a few km south of Tairatoyoma. People playing on the sand and in the sea!

Lastly, there is a photo captioned “a Japanese man stands on the edge of the restricted area.” The sign behind him is a standard ‘no entry’ sign, which does not necessarily mean it is the edge of a restricted area. Neither of the beaches mentioned in the article – Tairatoyoma to the south and Kitaizumi to the north – are near areas still subject to evacuation orders.

For a more nuanced take on surfing and the sea in coastal Fukushima, I suggest this well-written Guardian article.

If you’d like to know more about the research I’ve done on the social and cultural aspects of post-disaster recovery on the Fukushima coast, a couple of my papers are open access in the university repository:

https://openair.rgu.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/10059/1413/MABON%202015%20Coastal%20Management.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

https://openair.rgu.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/10059/1435/MABON%202016%20Engagement%20on%20risk%20and%20uncertainty.pdf?sequence=5&isAllowed=y

The Daily Mail article URL is as follows, should you wish to check for yourself:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7219401/Japanese-daredevils-brave-contaminated-water-sand-ride-waves-beach-near-Fukushima.html

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Tairausuiso Beach, 2014

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Scotland-Vietnam coastal research collaboration: intensive field visit to Quang Nam Province

The second half of May saw a visit of a team from the School of Applied Social Sciences at Robert Gordon University to the Institute of Human Geography in the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, for a week of joint research. This collaborative venture connects the projects ‘Ensuring social wellbeing in climate change adaptation through ecosystem management’ (funded by the RGU’s Research Investment and Scottish Funding Council GCRF allocation, PI Leslie Mabon) and ‘Sustainable livelihood adaptation to climate change of rural residents in the South Central Coast: Approach from human ecology’ (funded by the National Foundation for Science, Technology and Education’, PI Nguyen Song Tung).

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Interview at Thang Binh District office

This time, our focus was on Quang Nam Province on Vietnam’s South Central Coast, and in particular on how livelihoods are being affected by climate change. In the spirit of collaborative research and intensive data collection established during our previous RGU-IHGeo projects, the week involved a mix of workshop- and field-based activity – albeit this time, the balance was tipped very much towards the latter. We had one workshop session in Hanoi on the Monday, then three days of data collection and initial analysis in Quang Nam Province (more about that in a minute). The core team this time consisted of myself (Leslie Mabon); Natascha Mueller-Hirth and Stephen Vertigans from the RGU side. From IHGeo, we had our old friends Nguyen Song Tung, Pham Thi Tram, Tran Thi Tuyet and Le Hong Ngoc, as well as their new Politics and International Cooperation team member Doan Thi Thu Huong. Also joining us for the week was Hoang Thi Ngoc Ha, a researcher from ECODE who is collaborating with IHGeo on their current project.

The week started on Monday morning with two talks. The first was from Dr Nguyen Song Tung, Deputy Director General of IHGeo. She introduced her NAFOSTED project, and gave an introduction to Quang Nam Province – one of three provinces IHGeo are researching as part of their work. I then gave a talk on resilience in coastal communities, with a recap of the key outcomes of our previous collaboration in Nam Dinh as well as possible strategies for developing collaborative research. In the afternoon we followed this up with the rapid development of an interview schedule, which would allow us to explore a specific dimension of the research further in Quang Nam Province. For this, IHGeo Director General Tran Ngoc Ngoan joined the session too!

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Chair of Binh Minh Commune People’s Committee, with a climate change information panel

On Tuesday morning, we had a 5am alarm call to catch the 8am flight to Danang, from where we drove on to Tam Ky in Quang Nam Province. As someone whose previous experience of Vietnam was limited to Hanoi and a brief visit to Nam Dinh, I was startled by (a) how flat, dry and agricultural the landscape was; and (b) how unbelievably hot it was. First stop was the Quang Nam Provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development offices in Tam Ky, where a cross-departmental panel told us about environmental change, livelihood transitions and vulnerability in the province.

Wednesday was even hotter, reaching a scorching 35 degrees with direct sunlight and not a cloud in sight. Perhaps unfortunately this would also be the longest day, where we would focus on Thang Binh District and on people working at lower levels of government – as well as those living off the ecosystems themselves. With the sun blasting straight down, we staggered into the Thang Binh District office for agriculture and rural development. In a room which opened directly out onto the adjoining courtyard with no doors or windows and three fans going full blast, we had a more specific discussion about what is being done about livelihoods and climate change on one of the coastal districts of Quang Nam. It was then back into the minibus and up a ruler-straight road across dried-out rice fields, until we reached the offices of Binh Minh Commune. At this point, in the interests of efficiency the group split in two. I joined Tung and Ngoc to interview the Chair and Deputy Chair of the commune People’s Committee, to benefit from his strong knowledge of disaster prevention and management. Stephen and Natascha, meanwhile, headed to the village hall a couple of kilometres away, where the commune’s farmers had come out in force to talk about how storms and extreme weather events were impacting upon their livelihoods.

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Research team lunch on the seafront

A magnificent seafood lunch of crabs, squid and cockles followed on the beach. In the afternoon we drove south to Binh Nam Commune, where again we broke into small groups to interview both the People’s Committee Chair and some assembled citizens. The day finished with a drive into the village to interview residents in their homes – for me, this meant visiting a small bakery and roadside stall run by a small family. To illustrate the risks of increased intense storms, the electricity went off halfway through the interview, as a storm was coming and the local government elected to temporarily shut down power in the interests of safety.

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Leaving Binh Minh Commune after a workshop with local farmers

Despite lingering tiredness after an exhausting day in the field, on Thursday we gathered in the hotel in Tam Ky at 8.30am for a debrief session and an initial attempt at thematic analysis from the data. In practice, this involved a lot of me writing things on big sheets of paper, and even more of Tung arranging post-it notes into long columns. By the end of the session, we had something resembling a first-pass attempt at a grounded interpretation of our findings. Unfortunately, you’ll need to wait until we have thought about it a bit more before I can share the contents…

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Starting to make sense of everything we’ve heard…

So what are the next steps? Well, first of all we need to systematically go through all the information we got from the interviews, and flesh out some of the themes we identified in our analysis workshop at the end of the week. Then, we all need to work together to write this up into a publication, which is important for formalising our findings and building credibility for the projects. Lastly, I am acutely aware of the importance of somehow feeding back what we found to the local authorities who were very supportive in arranging the field work. This is something the IHGeo and RGU teams will be discussing in due course, with the hope of maximising the practical benefit of our work.

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Report: Taipei forums, workshops and teaching, April 2019

Last week I was in Taiwan for the final Taiwan workshops for our Royal Society of Edinburgh-Ministry of Science and Technology Joint Research Project into the spatial relationship of green infrastructure and heat hazard. I was joined by my PhD student and Research Assistant Yi-Chen Huang, and met up with Co-PI Dr Wan-Yu Shih of Ming-Chuan University to run the activities.

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Expert workshop participants coming to a consensus on the Q-Sort

We wanted to make the workshops as interactive as possible, so the first morning started with an expert workshop on social characteristics of heat vulnerability for Taiwanese cities. Thanks to support from Classic Design and Planning, we were able to invite Prof Sarah Lindley from University of Manchester to join us. Sarah talked the group through her work on the ClimateJust project in the UK, which aims to understand climate disadvantage by linking spatial environmental and social factors. With Sarah’s work as inspiration, the invited experts then worked in two small groups – and latterly as one big group – to rank a range of vulnerability drivers using the Q-Sort method. The invited experts came from a breadth of fields including urban planning, disaster risk, public health and architecture, as well as informed members of civil society. We had a full morning of heated discussion, so much so that lunch break had to be condensed – always a good sign!

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Wan-Yu and I introduce the workshop

In the afternoon we then had a public forum, with four talks on different aspects of green infrastructure and society in Taiwan. First was Po-Hung Liu of Classic Design and Planning, who set out a vision for Taipei and discussed the social and environmental opportunities which could be realised from the city’s green areas. It was then my turn to talk about the social dimensions of greenspace, drawing on the findings from the two papers Wan-Yu and I published last year. Chi-Da Wu of National Cheng Kung University spoke about the public health benefits of greenspace, before Wan-Yu gave one of her characteristically thorough and understated presentations, full of scientific rigour, on the relationship between green infrastructure and heat hazard in Taipei Metropolis. We then enjoyed a facilitated panel discussion with questions from the assembled audience.

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Wan-Yu Shih discusses her work on green infrastructure and heat hazard in Taipei at the Wednesday forum

Thursday evening was a double-header, with two hour-long lectures from myself and from Sarah on the theme of climate risk and green infrastructure in the UK. I spoke first, giving an overview of the adaptation landscape in Scotland and using the outcomes from our interview research on the RSE-MOST project to discuss how green infrastructure is helping to build a resilient Glasgow. Sarah then took us on a tour of her extensive work into green infrastructure, including her team’s newest research into how older people engage with green spaces in the UK. Thereafter, we had another enthusiastic Q&A session, with questions from the floor about differences between Taiwan and the UK; in whose benefit greenspace is managed; and even our opinions on Brexit (Sarah and I had done so well up until that point not to mention it…)

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Extolling the virtues of climate adaptation and green infrastructure champions in Glasgow, with Yi-Chen interpreting

For both days, both Yi-Chen and Wan-Yu did a great job of translating into Chinese for us, for which I am very grateful indeed – I know what a tiring and challenging job it is to translate and interpret.

I always enjoy doing a bit of teaching when I come to Taiwan, and was able to take two classes in the Department of Urban Planning and Disaster Management at MCU. The first class was with professional students on research techniques, so I talked the class through principles of research design, using the media analysis work I did when Wan-Yu and I first started collaborating as an example to spark discussion. We then ran the Q-Sort again with the class, where the students used the insights from their own jobs to help them reach consensus on how to rank the factors. The second class was with my friends from the global environmental change module – who I met back in March – where we again used the Q-Sort to get the class thinking and discussing what makes people vulnerable to heat risk. This time, there was a very animated and intense discussion between the groups, possible thanks to the good relations the students have with each other and the positive environment for learning that Wan-Yu creates in her classes.

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Showing off the outcome of the Q-Sort training with the professional class

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Global environmental change class at MCU present their findings

We are not done yet though! At the end of June, we will have another round of events in Scotland, with a workshop to be held in Edinburgh on Thursday 27 June. More details to follow soon!

AND we got another paper accepted together while in Taipei! This time, with our collaborators from Kyushu University, we are evaluating the emergence of an urban heat and greenspace research community in Fukuoka, Japan. Paper should be out soon in Geoforum.

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Hokkaido earthquake, Tomakomai and CCS: what information is there?

A large earthquake struck Hokkaido overnight on 6 September 2018. It registered Magnitude 6.7, and Shindo 7 was reached closest to the epicentre. There have been 18 fatalities at the time of writing with 24 people still missing, and landslides, power loss and water stoppages across Hokkaido.

The quake was centered very close to Tomakomai City, which is host to a sub-sea carbon dioxide capture and storage demonstration project. This will be of interest to CCS researchers globally, however there is limited English-language information at present.

The purpose of this post is therefore to translate into English publicly-available news and updates relating to the Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project. I will be translating and posting factual information/statements only, NOT opinions. As I have translated this myself, I take no responsibility for the accuracy of the translations. This post will be updated as and when I get information.

 

Date: October 2018

Organisation: Japan CCS Company

Information: JCCS have updated the temperature and pressure records to include those for all of September, including the periods before and after the earthquake:

Source: http://www.jccs-tomakomai-monitoring.com/JCCS/index.php/slideshow/slide17/

http://www.jccs-tomakomai-monitoring.com/JCCS/index.php/slideshow/slide18/

 

Date: 25 September 2018

Organisation: National Institute for Environmental Studies / Dr Seita Emori

Information: Dr Emori of National Institute for Environmental Studies – expert on environmental risk – comments on Tomakomai, CCS & earthquakes. He says the discussion on seismic risk from earthquakes is needed, even the Ministry of Environment considering it. But for Tomakomai case, based on output from JCCS, as far as he understands he can see no link. NIES’ Dialogue & Cooperation Division add that it basically seems there is no relation, moreover it appears CO2 has not leaked because of the earthquake. Emori says he thinks there is no relation this time, but as is usual for a new technology it is important to assert concerns & discuss them.

NIES also linked to a 2015 report on CCS by Ministry of Environment, in particular a section on societal consensus-building for CCS.

Source: https://twitter.com/taiwa_kankyo/status/1045213618101350400 ;

https://twitter.com/taiwa_kankyo/status/1044504392332767232

 

Date: 12 September 2018

Organisation: Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Information: “We have received enquiries as to whether the CCS activity of capturing CO2 emitted from the oil refinery and storing it under the seabed of the Tomakomai coast is connected to the Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake. Today at 19:55, we received notification from JCCS that CO2 injection was not happening at the time of the earthquake, and that no data showing leakage of CO2 has been confirmed.”

Source: https://twitter.com/meti_NIPPON/status/1039859624373960708

 

Date: 12 September 2018

Organisation: Japan CCS Company

Information (summary only, as my Japanese isn’t *that* good! However all main points are covered): JCCS released a two-page statement about the Hokkaido Eastern Iburi Earthquake. They reported that CO2 injection was stopped on 1 September 2018 at 2.25am, so at the time of the earthquake injection was not happening. The statement contains two main points:

(1) Regarding the situation of the stored CO2: Pressure and temperature of the Moebetsu and Takinoue Formations are directly monitored. Whilst monitoring data was briefly lost due to the power failures directly after the earthquake, when power was restored pressure and temperature were following the same trends as they had prior to the earthquake and were similar to previous injection stoppages. Moreover, no data showing leakage of CO2 was confirmed. On this point, similar views have been received from multiple experts, and the opinions of a wider pool of experts will be sought from now on;

(2) About the Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project and the earthquake: injection and storage is mainly taking place in the Moebetsu Formation, which is 3km offshore of Tomakomai west port and 1000m beneath the sea. Injection and storage is taking place in an area within 500m horizontally. The epicentre of this time’s earthquake was 31km away horizontally in Central Eastern Iburi, at a depth of 37km (i.e. a direct distance of 47km from the storage site). There is no connection between the formation into which CO2 is being injected and the formation in which the earthquake originated, so it cannot be thought that effects from CO2 injection influenced this time’s earthquake.

JCCS also included graphical data showing the pressure and temperature trends for both the Moebetsu and Takinoue Formations from 1 August up to 10 September.

Source: http://www.japanccs.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/180912_oshirase.pdf 

English translation added: http://www.japanccs.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/201809_180912_oshirase.pdf

 

Date: 11 September 2018

Organisation: Kumamoto Nichinichi Shimbun (Kumamoto Daily Newspaper) / Consortium of 4 universities in Kumamoto Prefecture

Information: A group of volunteer students from 4 universities called ‘KC3’ are working to identify false information relating to the Hokkaido earthquake online and report it to the authorities. While CCS is not explicitly mentioned in the article, claims that the Hokkaido earthquake was human-induced is one of their target rumours according to the article.

Source: https://this.kiji.is/411853839961064545?c=92619697908483575

 

Date: 10 September 2018

Organisation: Japan CCS Company

Information: Japan CCS Company have updated their online monitoring data to reflect the observation record of the onshore seismometer at Midorigaoka Park

Source: http://www.jccs-tomakomai-monitoring.com/JCCS/index.php/slideshow/slide14_e/

 

Date: 9 September 2018

Organisation: Japan Meteorological Agency/Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University

Information: Japan Meteorological Agency notes there were Magnitude 6 earthquakes in the area in 1924 and 1927, and a Magnitude 5.1. earthquake in 2017. Strain accumulation from movement between west and east Hokkaido may have been a factor in contributing to the earthquake, according to Prof Takyua Nishimura of Disaster Prevention Research Institute of Kyoto University, based on GPS analysis.

Source: https://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20180908-00050066-yom-sci

 

Date: 7 September 2018

Organisation: Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry

Information: There are no abnormalities at the site. As a precaution, there are also checks to ensure no CO2 has escaped.

Source: http://www.meti.go.jp/press/2018/09/20180907013/20180907013.html

 

Date: 6 September 2018

Organisation: Japan CCS Company

Information: JCCS has confirmed that there are no abnormalities in the facilities of the Tomakomai CCS Demonstration Project. The injection of CO2 into the offshore reservoirs has been in temporary suspension since September 1, due to the stoppage of supply from the CO2 source.

Source: http://www.japanccs.com/?p=3756&lang=en

 

Date: 6 September 2018

Organisation: University of Tokyo/Nagoya University

Information: A strong earthquake in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido was likely caused by a series of slips on an inland active fault.

Source: https://japantoday.com/category/national/strong-hokkaido-quake-likely-caused-by-slips-on-inland-active-fault

 

Date: 3 September 2018 (BEFORE earthquake)

Organisation: Japan CCS Company

Information: Data up to end August/early September (when injection suspended due to stoppage of CO2 source) showing status of storage site:

Overview of monitoring facilities

Most recent previous tremor (23 August 2018)

Distribution of natural earthquakes around Tomakomai (2001-2010, and August 2018)

Micro-seismic events around injection point (last 6 months and 12 months before injection)

Observation of pressure in the wells, up to 31 August 2018

Observation of temperature in the wells, up to 31 August 2018

Source: http://www.jccs-tomakomai-monitoring.com/JCCS/index.php/slideshow/slide01_e/

(nb page will open as rotating slide show)

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Three talks on northern Japan in Aberdeen, autumn 2018

Thrilled to announce three speakers who will be talking about northern Japan this autumn in Aberdeen. More to follow, but for now hold the dates!

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Notes on just transition talk at ATUC: Wed 25 July 2018

On Wednesday 25 July, I had the opportunity to talk to Aberdeen Trades Union Council about a just transition, and what it might mean for Aberdeen and the north-east. With the entire country baking in scorching heat that had caught the attention of the media and policymakers alike, it was a good time to be talking about how we might balance climate change imperatives with the need to transition the workforce and economy of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to a more sustainable and/or low-carbon base.

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At the venue – Edmonton Oilers t-shirt getting another airing to illustrate how oil shapes culture, identity and society!

The presentation I gave was an adaptation of the one I’ve given on a few previous occasions, setting out the increasingly precarious situation of jobs and working conditions related to the North Sea, and also what I perceive as a few of the barriers to thinking past oil and gas at present (continuing high salaries, defensiveness/reluctance towards discussing what’s coming next, ongoing political currency of North Sea oil etc etc). As a stimulus for discussion about what pathway we might go down next, I then gave an overview of the findings from my Regional Studies Association project, where I looked at fossil fuel transitions in Iwaki and southern Hokkaido regions of Japan.

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My attempt to sketch out three different – yet somehow related – problems faced by the north-east which need to be considered in a just transition for NE Scotland.

I’d like to summarise a few of the points that came out of the subsequent discussion:

  • There is perhaps a need for more recognition of the breath of occupations (and salaries) that are encompassed by ‘the oil industry.’ I recently read an interesting critical take on the idea of just transitions, which essentially argued that climate obligations can’t be delayed in order to allow carbon-intensive regions to transition gently. Although I don’t disagree with that view given the severity of the climate situation, it does indicate that we need to think a bit more about which kinds of workers within the sector will need the most support as high-emitting industries close down. Linked to this is also the question of where the responsibility lies for financing a just transition;

 

  • Related to the above, it’s worth remembering that there can be uneven levels of income, affluence and social capital within and between communities. The nature of the extractive industries (e.g. high-salaried work) has the potential to intensify these inequalities. When it comes to thinking about grass-roots initiatives such as community energy, it is therefore worth considering how the communities who might be most in need of such interventions are well supported by local and national government and by practitioner-academics. In other words, working with potentially marginalised communities and sectors as they navigate the complex funding, legislative and policy landscape which can stand in the way of getting initiatives off the ground;

 

  • Whilst we shouldn’t ignore the very harmful ecological and social effects that the extractive industries have had globally, it is perhaps helpful to draw a distinction between oil and gas operators as institutions, and the individuals that work within them. Building good interpersonal relations with key individuals in different sectors can be a useful precursor to creating conditions for consensus, and for building dialogue on what the most appropriate pathway is for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to follow from now into the future;

 

  • Who is setting the terms of the debate? The flip-side of the above is that when it comes to discussions over energy and environmental policy and the governance of public space at both a local and national level, private sector operators from the fossil fuel industries do still carry a lot of clout. Indeed, whilst large-scale on- and offshore wind is great from a climate mitigation point of view, it’s worth considering who the organisations are driving these projects, and how this might perpetuate relationships of dependency. In this regard, there are some interesting discussions emerging around public ownership of wind;

 

  • I am often guilty of painting a rather bleak picture of the future for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, but it’s worth remembering there are lots of skill sets that could be tapped into. For instance, this is a bit of a crass analogy, but engineers are capable of doing far more than building oil rigs. Rather, the whole way engineers approach and think about problems is distinct and could be applied to a number of contexts. What we really do need, though, is a proper skills audit of what is in the oil and gas industries and the low-carbon sectors that this might match up to;

 

  • Lastly, there is perhaps separate – yet also related – issue pertaining to climate vulnerability. As above, it has been illustrated globally that extractive industry activity has the potential to enhance existing inequalities and dependencies within communities. In turn, this means that when it comes to coping with the impacts of a changing climate (flooding, heat, extreme weather etc), there is even more potential for already marginalised sections of society to be at risk. Thus far, the discussion around just transitions in Aberdeen has been focused very much on climate change mitigation (especially carbon dioxide emission reduction), but perhaps we need to think a bit more about how a just transition for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire can encompass adaptation actions? Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Councils both have very capable people working on climate and sustainability issues so we have a good starting point in this regard. The challenge is perhaps finding ways to link up all the different pieces of this very complex narrative, to imagine a transition for the north-east that is not only low-carbon, but also socially, economically and environmentally sustainable.

 

Last of all, thanks very much to ATUC for inviting me, and to everyone who attended/ participated for a brilliant discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope this captures some of the key discussion points! Always open to input or suggestions: l.j.mabon@rgu.ac.uk

 

Posted in Comment, Events Attended, Regional Studies Association Early Career Grant 2017-18 | Leave a comment