(CN) — General Motors, the fourth largest automaker in the world, announced a progressive plan Thursday to become a carbon neutral company by 2040, aiming to cut off sales of most new gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
“General Motors is joining governments and companies around the globe working to establish a safer, greener and better world,” GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “We encourage others to follow suit and make a significant impact on our industry and on the economy as a whole.”
The automaker said it has signed on to the so-called Business Ambition for 1.5⁰C, a coalition of companies committed to addressing climate change.
The pledge seeks to inspire industrial companies to stem some of the worst climate impacts and avoid irreversible damage by keeping temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That requires halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and hitting net-zero emissions by 2050.
More than 390 companies have agreed to the commitment, including Ford Motor Company and global automotive component supplier Faurecia.
GM also announced it partnered with one of the world's leading environmental organizations, the Environmental Defense Fund, to help evolve the idea of the electric vehicle and strive to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035.
The EDF was established in 1967 in Long Island, New York. Its breakthrough court victory based on scientific research in 1972 helped enable a national ban on the sale and use of the pesticide DDT.
“With this extraordinary step forward, GM is making it crystal clear that taking action to eliminate pollution from all new light-duty vehicles by 2035 is an essential element of any automaker’s business plan," said EDF President Fred Krupp. "EDF and GM have had some important differences in the past, but this is a new day in America — one where serious collaboration to achieve transportation electrification, science-based climate progress and equitably shared economic opportunity can move our nation forward.”
The United Auto Workers union released a statement that approved of the plans but emphasized the most important thing is keeping manufacturing jobs in the United States.
“UAW members have never shied away from working with new technology,” it said. “Even with these new product goals, it will be some time before the transition occurs. But the important thing is that President Biden agrees with our position that any new jobs replacing combustible engines are union wage and benefit jobs that are created right here in the U.S.”
Pamela R. Grothe, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Mary Washington, believes this is a positive first step that will inspire other automakers to follow suit.
“Tackling climate change needs an all-hands-on-deck approach – we need companies, like GM, to commit to a carbon neutral future rather than waiting for government policies. I think GM’s move to a carbon neutral future will encourage other auto makers to do so, especially since they have already laid out the framework on how to do it,” she wrote in an email.
She added, “GM’s commitment to electrify their fleet and invest in renewable charging infrastructure will not only reduce carbon emissions related to transportation, but will lead to better air quality and human health.”
GM plans to offer 30 all-electric models globally by the middle of the decade and 40% of the company’s U.S. models offered will be battery electric vehicles by the end of 2025, it said. In addition to cars, the company plans to develop electric SUVs and crossovers that are most popular with consumers now.
It will invest $27 billion in electric and autonomous vehicles in the next five years – up from the $20 billion planned before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than half of its spending and product development team will be devoted to electric and electric-autonomous vehicle programs.
Jonathan Gilligan, professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, was also pleased with the news.
“I see this announcement by GM as a big deal, and something that will be a great benefit to GM, to its customers, and to the planet, even if they do not meet 100% of their goals,” he wrote in an email. “In the big picture, GM would be able to come close to carbon neutrality in its own operations. Whether it technically achieves complete carbon neutrality is a question largely of how credible are the offsets it purchases to compensate for the carbon emissions it cannot bring directly to zero. It is heartening that the press release acknowledges that carbon offsets ‘must be used sparingly.’”
Gilligan sees the progress of other large companies as a sign that a seismic transition like this can be made while remaining profitable.
“Many other large corporate energy users, such as Walmart, have committed to moving their operations to entirely renewable energy, and Google produces enough renewable electricity to match the total consumption of its data farms and cloud computing services. So for GM, moving to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 seems feasible,” he said.
He added, “Due to the rapid decline in the cost of renewable electricity and the lower total cost of ownership for electric vehicles, this pledge looks like an example of a win-win, or what some people call the triple bottom line: good for profits, good for the environment, and good for society.”
GM said it will continue to improve the efficiency of traditional internal combustion engines in accordance with regional regulations. Some improvements have already found their way into current vehicles through features like aerodynamic efficiency enhancements, turbo-boosted engines, more efficient transmissions and lower rolling resistance tires.
Beyond the actual electric vehicles, the operations to produce them will also be modernized. GM pledged to source 100% renewable energy to power its U.S. sites by 2030 and global sites by 2035.
The automaker is also working with EVgo to triple the size of the nation’s largest public fast charging network by adding more than 2,700 new fast chargers by the end of 2025 to help accelerate widespread electric vehicle adoption. The new fast chargers will be powered by 100% renewable energy.
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