On January 28, General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker announced it plans to be carbon neutral by 2040. The plan highlights the appropriate use of carbon offsets in balance with direct emissions reductions and shifts in strategy.
The purpose of carbon offsets has always been to bridge the gap between operational emissions reductions and carbon neutrality as we transition to a low-carbon future. However, this purpose is not infrequently misunderstood in the media. The plan by GM offers a very clear example of how carbon offsets should fit within larger commitments to decarbonize.
First, GM will work to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035 by transitioning to battery and other zero-emissions vehicle technology. Second, the company will source renewable energy for its operations and charging stations. Third, GM will work with its supply chain on improving sustainability and decarbonization. Carbon offsets will only be used to account for remaining carbon emissions.
GM’s announcement illustrates how carbon offsets should, and frequently are, used to help companies meet carbon neutrality goals only after prioritizing product and operational changes. The use of high-quality offsets is an effective complement to operational and supply chain emissions reductions.
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