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Ford aims to be carbon neutral by 2050

It cut emissions from its factories, but shrinking the carbon footprint of its cars will be a bigger challenge

Exploring Santa Barbara’s Wine Country Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

Ford pledged today to become carbon neutral by 2050, a goal that would bring the automaker in line with targets set by the landmark Paris climate agreement. To fulfill its commitment, the company needs to shrink its output of greenhouse gases and find ways to remove whatever pollution it continues to produce.

The automaker says it will focus on three key sources that make up 95 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions. These are emissions from the vehicles it sells, emissions from its factories, and from its suppliers. The company has set a goal of completely powering all its manufacturing plants with locally-sourced renewable energy by 2035.

Limiting its contribution to the climate crisis will be a tall order for a business that primarily makes gas-guzzling vehicles. Three quarters of the planet-heating CO2 emissions Ford is responsible for come from consumers driving its cars. The vehicles it sells create 135 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to a sustainability report the company released today. That’s almost as much as 35 coal-fired power plants would produce in one year. In comparison, Ford facilities worldwide produced the CO2 emissions equivalent to less than one coal-fired power plant in 2019.

Ford has already made some progress towards this target, with absolute carbon emissions from its facilities falling by over 14 percent in 2019. That’s roughly equal to taking 138,000 passenger vehicles off the road for a year. However, the combined fuel economy of its cars and trucks flatlined that same year, suggesting making changes to its biggest source of carbon emissions is still a major challenge.

Progress in reducing car emissions has been stymied by the Trump administration, which has attempted to rollback fuel efficiency standards. This move has not necessarily been welcomed by automakers, though. Last year, Ford, along with Volkswagen, Honda, and BMW, agreed to improve fuel economy through 2026. Meanwhile, nearly two dozen attorneys general have sued the US government over these planned rollbacks.

In 2018, Ford committed to spending more than $11 billion in investment into its electric vehicles through 2022. Its new commitments come on the heels of Volvo and Volkswagen also setting goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“We believe that making great vehicles and maintaining a strong business don’t have to be at the cost of protecting our planet,” Ford’s vice president and chief sustainability, environment and safety officer, Bob Holycross, said in the sustainability report. “These priorities are dependent on each other and aren’t mutually exclusive.”