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Why Toyota was rock bottom in Greenpeace's automaker decarbonization ranking: interview

In this Dec. 14, 2021 file photo, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda speaks during a press conference to announce the company's target of producing 3.5 million electric vehicles by 2030. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

TOKYO -- In its Auto Environment Guide 2021 report released in November last year, international environmental advocacy group Greenpeace ranked Toyota Motor Corp. -- the largest automaker by sales not just in Japan but in the world -- last among the 10 biggest car companies for its decarbonization efforts. The Mainichi recently spoke with Greenpeace Japan's Daniel Read online about the report and why Toyota came out rock bottom. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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    The Mainichi: Why did Greenpeace rank Toyota last among major automakers for decarbonization?

    Daniel Read: This is the result of the grading process. We had a number of different criteria, and as a result of looking at the top 10 makers, Toyota was the one with the lowest score. We're not trying to vilify Toyota in particular. As to why their score is so low, there's a number of reasons, one of which is that they have no clear plans to phase out ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. There's a significant lack of information with regards to resource circularity, and they have a long history of lobbying against climate-related legislation in various different markets that they operate in around the world.

    One of the reasons we want to put a particular emphasis on Toyota is that while they are a Japanese company, they are a global company with global reach. So the decisions they make really do effect the rest of the world.

    M: Toyota announced in December 2021 that it would aim to produce 3.5 million electric vehicles by 2030. Doesn't that help their decarbonization standing?

    DR: It's certainly a step in the right direction. But whilst an increase in EV (electric vehicles) is generally a good thing, Toyota still hasn't said anything about phasing out internal combustion engine vehicles in any of the markets in which they operate. They've said they'll sell 3.5 million electric vehicles by 2030. But is that on top of the on average about 9 million vehicles that they sell? Or are there going to be 3.5 million fewer ICE vehicles, replaced by EVs? There's not a lot of clarity on that point.

    I take the announcement in December to be indicative that Toyota is turning a corner in terms of their overall strategy, which is broadly a good thing. However, there's still a lot of detail lacking. Where is their plan for ICE phase-out? How do they plan on procuring the rare metals for those 3.5 million EVs? How are these being recycled?

    Greenpeace Japan's Daniel Read is seen in this provided photo.

    M: Toyota President Akio Toyoda said that "if people say that even this (the December EV announcement) is not progress, then I'd like to ask what they would consider progress" on decarbonization. What was your response to that?

    DR: I was sitting in the third row (of the venue) when he made that announcement, and I really wanted to put my hand up and say, "I've got an answer for you." What you really need to do if you're serious about reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 is have an ICE phase-out plan. Because if you don't, you will not achieve net-zero (carbon emissions) by 2050.

    M: What do you say to Toyota's continued emphasis on hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles as a way to give customers the most choice?

    DR: Obviously you have individual consumer freedom. But to me there's an upper limit, which is you have to limit global warming to within 1.5 degrees (Celsius). If you're doing something that keeps it below 1.5 C, then you can make whatever kind of vehicle you like. The problem is, ICE vehicles and hybrids are not consistent with 1.5 C, they're not consistent with net-zero by 2050.

    M: What could Toyota do to improve its ranking in next year's report?

    DR: The issue of ICE vehicle phase-out notwithstanding, the other thing would be where the 3.5 million EVs by 2030 are going to be sold. Are they replacing or are they in addition to your current ICE vehicle sales? We need more detail on what they're proposing. If you haven't provided a concrete pathway, we have no information on which to assess you.

    M: Do you have any comment on the fact that no Japanese carmaker signed on to the pledge made by 27 countries and several leading automakers at COP26 to make all their new vehicles zero-emissions by 2040?

    DR: It's a missed opportunity. It's not terribly surprising but it is very unfortunate. And it makes me question how serious they are about their commitments. METI (Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) has said that they want to have full electrification of all new vehicle sales by 2035. Well if that's your goal, then wouldn't ending ICE vehicle sales by 2040 be consistent with the government's policies and pledges? Ultimately its clear which direction the industry is headed. You have these large countries and some large companies making this move. And I think the longer it takes Japan and Japanese manufacturers to get on board, it increases the likelihood that they'll be left behind.

    M: How important is it for car companies to be transparent about their carbon emissions metrics and plans, and is it reasonable to ask them to make these figures available?

    DR: I think transparency is one of the most important things. Transparency is the thing that demonstrates their conviction. It's one thing to say, "We plan to achieve net-zero by 2050." But if they can say, "Here are our own internal figures on how we're going to do it and where we're currently at," that demonstrates to me as an outside observer that they are serious about doing it. Transparency is incredibly important, and I think that it can definitely be improved upon.

    M: What message do you have for Toyota President Akio Toyoda?

    DR: Please come up with an ICE vehicle phase-out plan. Whilst we recognize that the 3.5 million EV target is a significant improvement on past results and corporate direction, there are still grave concerns. If Toyota is serious about achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, then they need to make much more qualitive shifts on their policy, starting with an ICE phase-out.

    (Interviewed by Robert Sakai-Irvine, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

    The full Greenpeace Auto Environment Guide 2021 report can be found here.

    Profile

    Daniel is a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Japan, and the project lead for the Driving Change campaign, focusing on decarbonization in the Japanese auto industry. He was also involved in the climate-related shareholder resolutions filed with major Japanese financial institutions in 2020 and 2021. Prior to Greenpeace, he worked for several other NGOs in Japan focusing on issues of sustainable development and intercultural communication. He is also a qualified interpreter and translator. Daniel is originally from Brisbane, Australia.

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