GM Just Pledged to Carbon-Neutral by 2040, Nearly Zero Emissions by 2035

GM just pledged to meet the standards of the Paris Climate Agreement 10 years early.
Brad Bergan

General Motors (GM) declared on Thursday its intentions to go carbon-neutral by 2040 — 10 years ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement schedule — promising to adapt 100% of the company's light-duty vehicles to zero-emission powertrains by 2035, according to a Linkedin blog post from CEO Mary Barra.

GM CEO commits to carbon neutral enterprise by 2040

This new pledge comes days after the new U.S. Biden administration rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, and serves as a call to action for other companies to match Barra and GM's commitment to staying below the 1.5-degrees Celsius limit — stipulated in the Business Ambition Pledge, of which GM is a signee.

"General Motors plans to be carbon neutral by 2040 — which means removing emissions from all our products, including every vehicle we produce, and all of our global operations in the next twenty years," wrote Barra in her Linkedin blog post. "Where removing emissions is not possible — for example if the technology does not yet exist in those timeframes — we will compensate for those emissions through carbon credits or carbon capture."

GM 'encourages others to follow suit'

A few months ago, GM left a litigating process to remove California's ability to decide fuel economy and emissions standards — backing the incoming Biden administration's aims to spread the adoption of renewable energy throughout the U.S.

"General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener and beter world," said Barra in her blog post. "We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole."

Automaker to help expand EV charging networks

The automaker also said it drafted its plans with the Environmental Defense Fund to help diversify its future electric car offerings — committing to offer electric vehicle cars across a spectrum of prices. This means GM isn't interested in only making EVs priced at $40,000 or more.

This monumental shift in GM's take on climate change will bring the automaker close to organizations and stakeholders like the EDF — to expand charging networks for EVs, and help consumers better grasp the value and changes associated with zero-emission vehicles.

General Motors pledges to eliminate Scope 3 emissions

In the blog post, Barra said GM will use "100 percent renewable energy" to power all of its plants and facilities in the U.S., and aims to extend this policy globally by 2035. In the business of building sustainable alternatives to climate change, these are called Scope 1 and 2 emissions. But a harder obstacle involves eliminating a firm's end-of-use products and wider supply chain — which encompass Scope 3 emissions.

However, GM claims it will cease Scope 3 emissions — which constitute 75% of the automaker's total carbon output — by the year 2040.

'It takes a village' to build a viable EV infrastructure

However, in case of unforeseen pitfalls or delays, the company left itself some room to spare. In her blog post, Barra describes the aim of ceasing tailpipe emissions from light-duty vehicles by 2035 as "an aspiration" — instead of a written-in-stone certainty.

"What we really need is the efforts of all these groups we've mentioned combined," said GM's Chief Sustainability Officer Dane Parker during a conference call, reports The Verge, referencing company partnerships with governments and environmental groups to build the requisite EV charging infrastructure. "And so in some ways, this is a great example of 'it takes a village.'"

Automakers late to adopt sustainable options face competitive disadvantage

There's much to anticipate as other companies consider following GM's action on Thursday, but it's not the first major industry leader to make an early commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. Volvo pledged to lower its total carbon footprint by 2025, while Lyft and Uber committed to achieving a carbon-neutral enterprise within the same timeframe as GM. But while we wait to see which company makes the next move, we can say that as consumers become more familiar and comfortable with electric vehicles, automakers who wait too long may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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