Exposed: How Canon’s think tank takes aim at climate science

SUMMARY

Canon has two faces. Built on the back of an environmentally-friendly brand respected by its customers, Canon has created a think tank which is a broad platform for climate denial. Its reach includes everything from international media to school children and government policy-making bodies.

The Canon think tank spreads falsehoods about climate science, promotes fossil fuels and aims to slow the transition to clean energy in Japan.

As a respected and influential global brand, Canon can play a powerful role in driving climate action, both through positive advocacy to the government, and through communicating to a global community of nature lovers who buy its products. Instead, the Canon think tank is pumping out ideologically-driven and dangerous misinformation on the climate crisis aimed at slowing down a transition to a cleaner safer world.

Fujio Mitarai, CEO and Chairman of Canon Inc, and Chairman of the Board of Supervisors at Canon Institute of Global Studies (CIGS) has been exposed and now he must come clean:

  1. Mitarai and Canon’s senior management must withdraw support for CIGS, in the first instance, until publications by its research directors which deny the science of climate change, are removed from sale. This must start with Mr. Sugiyama’s publication targeting children, Global Warming from the age of 15: Factfulness not taught at school.
  2. Canon Inc.’s leadership must also take responsibility for the views of CIGS researchers, and in particular, end Mr. Sugiyama’s participation in government and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change bodies.
  3. It must also issue a public statement that it in no way endorses the anti-science and pro-fossil fuel views of the think tank, and will undertake a public review of the failures of governance which have allowed its brand to be used as a platform for these extreme views.

Canon has a reputation to protect and a promise to live up to. If enough of us speak up, it has to listen. Join us and call on Canon CEO Fujio Mitaria to truly embrace ‘kyosei’ by publicly stating the Canon Institute is putting an end to climate denial and delay.

Act Now

In-depth: Canon institute of climate denial

Canon Inc. needs little introduction.

Founded in 1937, the Japanese corporation is renowned the world over for its products, such as printers and cameras.

What is less well known, is that behind the shutter, many a wildlife photographer’s brand of choice is joined at the hip to a campaign to undermine the science of global warming and slow Japan’s path to decarbonization.

Canon Inc. has committed to achieving net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and its corporate philosophy, kyosei, translates as “living and working together for the common good.”

But despite CEO Fujio Mitarai’s lofty pledge “to set the goal of human happiness and prosperity above the profits of any single company or nation,” Canon’s think tank, the Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS), employs researchers who downplay the climate crisis and attack climate science.

Articles by its research directors have labeled climate activist Greta Thunberg a communist. Its books have titles such as The inconvenient truth of the SDGs: The big lie about decarbonization saving the world. Who is making profits from “global warming” (book title translated from the original Japanese).

As recently as January 2022, a CIGS research director launched a book aimed at school children, Global warming from the age of 15: Factfulness not taught at school (book title translated from the original Japanese), which states firmly that global warming is not dangerous and questions the severity of the climate crisis.

Beyond publications and media, CIGS’s reach even extends into influential government bodies such as the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), as well as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Canon has two faces. While Canon Inc.’s marketers target young people and photographers with its sustainable brand, behind the scenes, the think tank, which shares its name and leadership, is using its weight to block action on climate change.

Now, it’s exposed.

Canon’s sustainability promise

Sustainability, nature and climate are central to Canon’s brand and its appeal to customers.

Canon harnesses the environment as one of its key selling points, including running an ambassadors’ program featuring some of the world’s leading environmental photographers, as well as heavily publicized competitions such as Moments that Matter, which invite “photographers of all levels or anyone with a camera and a passion for sustainabilityto take part.

Canon even dips a toe in environmental protection, such as its Rescue a Reef campaign marketed at Gen Z in the US. As industry publication Chief Marketer breathlessly explained in October 2021, “an example of a brand walking the walk is Canon, a company that strives to follow the Buddhist philosophy of kyosei, a concept that advocates harmony between people and the environment. When the team at Canon learned that the University of Miami was spearheading a coral reef restoration project in Key Biscayne, FL, it offered to lend its cutting-edge imaging equipment to students and researchers to document the project on TikTok while also supporting an ongoing fellowship program.”

Canon Global’s own website trumpets its environmental credentials, highlighting its focus on its efforts to contribute to a low-carbon society.

But beyond the glossy PR, CIGS has a very different agenda.

Not a pretty picture: about CIGS

“I sincerely hope that CIGS will play an active role in shaping the future of Japan and the rest of the world by precisely plotting out future directions while also bringing together outstanding human resources with the motivation to achieve these ambitions.”

CEO and Chairman of Canon Inc. and Chairman of CIGS’s Board of Supervisors

Incorporated in 2008 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Canon Inc., the Canon Institute for Global Studies is a private non-profit think tank. According to a Canon Global media release to mark the launch, the think tank was established with initial funding of one billion yen, or around eight million US dollars.

In the words of Fujio Mitarai, who doubles as Chairman of CIGS’s Board of Supervisors and CEO and Chairman of Canon Inc., the Institute “conducts various research in line with Canon’s corporate philosophy of kyosei – living and working together for the common good.”

According to recent CIGS marketing materials, the think tank boasts fifteen research directors focused on three main areas: first, macroeconomics, natural resources, energy and the environment, second, foreign affairs and third, national security. As it boldly states, “through these activities, the CIGS aims to consolidate its basis for a global research network and to ensure that the accrued strands of wisdom will be passed on to the next generation.

Furthermore, CIGS aims to produce research focused on “formulating effective policy proposals.”

Its capacity to do so is bolstered by senior ranks filled with politically influential corporate heavyweights with backgrounds at the likes of MUFG Bank, Sumitomo and Mizuho. Indeed, Chairman Fujio Mitarai is the former chairman of Japan’s powerful business lobby, the Keidanren, while its president, Toshihiko Fukui, is a former governor of the Bank of Japan.

CIGS is prolific and well-connected, with its researchers regularly publishing materials through its own platforms, with publishers and through the media. Its research directors are also actively involved in policy-making, making their voices heard in numerous influential bodies within the Japanese government.

“Decarbonization is full of lies”

Worryingly, despite Canon Inc.’s stated focus on the “common good,” CIGS research directors are leveraging the institute’s influence to attack climate science and undermine Japan’s transition to clean energy.

CIGS offers a disclaimer that it does not necessarily endorse the views of its own research directors. But such an argument does not pass muster. For CIGS to claim distance from the research produced by its own research directors and published on its own website is a weak attempt to shirk responsibility and accountability.

 

Taishi Sugiyama in the frame

Among CIGS’s most prolific researchers is Research Director Taishi Sugiyama.

According to CIGS, Mr. Sugiyama “develops the strategy to solve global warming through technological innovation and proposes policy and institution arrangement to make it happen. He also examines scientific knowledge and environmental impacts of global warming and explores [sic] national mitigation strategy of global warming that hits [sic] balance among national security, economy and environment.

As a member of the government task forces influencing Japan’s nationally determined contributions, such as the METI’s Global Environment Subcommittee of the Industrial Structure Council, Mr. Sugiyama is also well connected in policy circles.

Mr. Sugiyama has been contributing to the work of the IPCC as an author of IPCC’s Assessment Reports since 2004. Indeed, he is currently a lead author on Chapter 16 of the IPCC’s Working Group III on Mitigation.

Such a profile makes his views all the more surprising.

During 2021, CIGS lists numerous publications by the prolific Mr. Sugiyama. These include (translation of the book titles originally in Japanese):

Perhaps most remarkably, in January 2022 Mr. Sugiyama published Global warming from the age of 15: Factfulness not taught at school. In the publication Mr. Sugiyama repeats many of his false assertions that climate change is exaggerated, that climate models are flawed and that the data does not support links to extreme weather. The book also takes aim at young climate activist Greta Thunberg.

 

Greta Thunberg attacked by CANON

The book states (original text in Japanese):

In August 2018, Greta, at the age of 15, a world-renowned young environmental activist, put up a sign in Swedish saying “school strike for climate” in front of the Swedish parliament, to strengthen climate change countermeasures. She then became famous.

However, not everything celebrities say is correct. It is important to think for yourself, and not just swallow information.

For example, Ms. Greta complains that climate change is putting human survival in danger, but there are no observations or statistical data to show that.

A December 2021 article posted on CIGS’s website, written by Mr. Sugiyama in Japanese, even surmises Ms. Thunberg was not invited to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference due to her “communist” views.

Now, it’s easy to see why Greta wasn’t invited to COP this year, having been invited in previous years to give speeches.

She has turned from an environmentalist into a communist, making it inconvenient for those who gathered at the COP and are trying to make money from climate change.

Snap. CIGS’s US far-right playbook

Mr. Sugiyama’s work extends beyond the literary and educational spheres.

He is a frequent contributor to conservative media outlets such as Sankei newspaper, Daily Will Online, and Agora. The following is from a magazine article by him in April 2021:

“Gradual global warming may continue, but there are no signs of a catastrophe. Some people are fueling concerns using terms such as the climate crisis and climate emergency, but nothing like these are happening.”

Mr. Sugiyama’s voice is being heard beyond conservative media. His comments have appeared in The Financial Times as a skeptical voice of former Prime Minister Suga’s push for decarbonization.

In the pages of Japanese magazine Seiron, Mr. Sugiyama praises US right-wing pundits and echoes their talking points in laying blame at the feet of mainstream media and “evil” environmental campaigns in the service of China.

As he explains in Seiron’s April 2021 edition (translated from the original Japanese):

Global warming used to be a minor topic of conversation only environmental people would discuss. But the situation has changed significantly in the past few years as radical environmental activism succeeded in taking over politics in Japan, the US and Europe.

Environmental campaigns have become a giant evil, weakening free countries, leading to the rise of China, and becoming a threat to Japan. I want everyone who has a stake in the national economy and security to understand how grave the issue has become.

Gradual global warming may continue, but there are no signs of a catastrophe. Some people are fueling concerns using terms such as the climate crisis and climate emergency, but nothing like these are happening.

How did such fake news manage to spread? That is because government organizations, international organizations, NGOs and media ignored inconvenient data, killed different opinions, repeated their propaganda, and promoted their vested interests…

How is China going to respond to the upcoming series of negotiations (on climate)? I believe China will act cooperatively for the time being. China may be able to do whatever it likes to do on any issues other than climate change. That is because it is unlikely for China to draw condemnation from international society, especially the US, amid heightened expectations for an international agreement (on climate change) in November.

Supporters of the Republican Party in the US are well aware that warming and climate crisis theories are fake. Reasonable discussions are being held in Congress and the media based on observation data. But that is not how things are in Japan due to vested interests established all across the spectrum. Ministries have their own budgets and power to tackle warming. Companies flock to government subsidies. Researchers, using government budgets, present their “results” of their research to say global warming causes disasters. The media make money by turning such study results into a horror story.

As a result, our national strength is being eroded to a dangerous level. But few people will say this aloud because expressing disagreeing opinions on global warming leads to being labeled, attacked by the media and the internet…

But forcing “zero CO2 (emissions)” will destroy our economy and even threaten our freedom and security. Patriots in Japan must understand the gravity of this issue and raise their voice [sic].

Mr. Sugiyama follows up with an additional piece in the August edition of the same publication, in which he accuses Nikkei of being “an accomplice in pushing a decarbonization fest(translation from the original Japanese)

Nikkei praises a myth called green growth with no criticism.

The paper refuses to say something that is obvious – decarbonization is impossible.

Achieving zero CO2 emissions by 2050 comes at an enormous cost, create [sic] massive job losses and battering the economy.

Anyone who understands a little about technology can see that it is impossible to achieve decarbonization in 30 years.

Nikkei repeatedly writes that worsening global warming will lead to extreme weather events that will cause damage to the economy and society. However, extreme weather events are not on the rise. Anyone can confirm this by looking at publicly available statistics. The number of typhoons is not increasing and typhoons are not getting any stronger. The number of typhoons remains stable at around 25 per year. The number of typhoons categorized as “strong” also remains stable at around 15, not increasing.

Advocating climate denial

Furthermore, as a member of the government task forces, Mr. Sugiyama regularly submits supplementary papers.

The following extracts are from one such submission from July 26, 2021. The paper was written in response to the draft of “The Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures”, one of key government reports on Japan’s climate change strategy.

 

Mr. Sugiyama’s points on climate science are regularly a blend of misdirection or points taken out of context.

Delay is the new denial. Other CIGS researchers in the frame.

While Mr. Sugiyama is the most outspoken of CIGS’s research directors, he is not alone in his focus on slowing down the transition to clean energy.

Takaya Imai, for example, is a research director at CIGS focusing on analysis on changes in market and industrial structures arising from decarbonization (since 2021).

A former METI bureaucrat, Mr. Imai was a close aide to then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, serving as executive secretary to the prime minister and later as chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Following Abe’s resignation, Mr. Imai was appointed as special advisor to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on energy issues in September 2020. He was reported to be reappointed as a special advisor to the cabinet on energy policy in October 2021, under the new Prime Minister Kishida.

According to reports in Nikkei, Mr. Imai was renowned for stalling earlier efforts to adopt the 2050 decarbonization target. Abe’s administration had considered adopting decarbonization as government policy on two occasions, but Imai opposed each time, the paper reported.

At CIGS, Mr. Imai has been a regular contributor of columns on energy issues.

In a theme to which he repeatedly returns, an article posted to the CIGS website on April 7, 2021, on the eve of the Japan-US climate summit, sums up his views. In the piece, Mr. Imai belittles the Biden administration and speaks out against a ban on new coal power plants (translation from Japanese):

Even if the Biden administration decides to push through decarbonization, Republicans will immediately roll back this policy once they take office. What top leaders in Japan and the US should aim for is not an export ban on coal-fired power. Unfortunately, this seems to be the idea of people who do not have a good understanding of the world’s energy situation (Geopolitical Map). It’s just garden cleaning that has no meaning or strategy.

Emerging powers and developing countries including China still need coal. Actually, Europe and the US, too. The area of cooperation necessary for Japan and the US is to draw up a scenario to efficiently reduce carbon emissions worldwide over a certain period of time.

The EU and the UK treat coal like an enemy, but it is uncertain in the long-term whether the US is going to be brainwashed or put its decision on hold, and my guess is that the US will not join them.

While his arguments are more nuanced than those of Mr. Sugiyama, his advocacy for delay, coal power, and unproven coal technology is no less damaging to the need to respond to the climate crisis.

As prominent US climate scientist Michael Mann explains, “on the climate crisis, delay has become the new form of denial… One can no longer credibly deny that climate change is real, human-caused, and a threat to our civilization. That means that the forces of inaction — the fossil fuel interests and the front groups, organizations and mouthpieces-for-hire they fund — have been forced to turn to other tactics in their effort to keep us dependent on fossil fuels.”

“…the D-word du jour is delay. And we’ve become all too familiar with the lexicon employed in its service: ‘adaptation,’ ‘resilience,’ ‘geoengineering’ and ‘carbon capture.’ These words offer the soothing promise of action, but all fail to address the scale of the problem.”

Canon exposed

Canon is one of the world’s best-known companies, synonymous with photography of the natural world.

Alongside its corporate philosophy of kyosei, Canon markets itself as a brand which cares about preserving the majesty of nature and taking action on the climate crisis. Canon even has a Sustainability Headquarters to strengthen efforts to address environmental issues such as climate change and resource recycling.

This makes it all the more remarkable that the think tank established in its honor, which shares its name and key leadership, should act as a platform for climate delay and denial at so many levels, including policy-making, the public debate and education.

It is implausible the leadership of Canon Inc. is unaware of CIGS’s dangerous interventions. This knowledge can only be viewed as, at best, tacit approval of climate denial, which is in complete contradiction to the company’s stated values, as well as its brand promise to its customers, staff and investors.

Fujio Mitarai, CEO and Chairman of Canon Inc, and Chairman of the Board of Supervisors at CIGS has been exposed and now he must come clean.

Mr. Mitarai and Canon’s senior management must withdraw support for CIGS, in the first instance, until publications by its research directors which deny the science of climate change, are removed from sale. This must start with Mr. Sugiyama’s publication targeting children, Global Warming from the age of 15. Factfulness not taught at school. 

Canon Inc.’s leadership must also take responsibility for the views of CIGS researchers, and in particular, end Mr. Sugiyama’s participation in government and IPCC bodies.

It must also issue a public statement that it in no way endorses the anti-science and pro-fossil fuel views of the think tank, and will undertake a public review of the failures of governance which have allowed its brand to be used as a platform for these extreme views.

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Translation disclaimer: Some texts quoted in this report have been translated from the original Japanese, using translation software powered by Google Translate, then verified by a Japanese native speaker. Reasonable efforts have been made to provide an accurate translation, though no automated translation is perfect.