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The Science Behind Our Climate Change Strategy

Our climate change strategy is based on our commitment to do our share to stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere.

Ford’s Plans and Targets Are Rooted in Climate Science

Many scientists, businesses and government agencies have concluded that limiting global temperature increase to less than 2℃ may help to forestall or substantially delay the most serious consequences of climate change (Figure 1). This is extremely challenging and requires a major effort globally to decrease emissions of CO2 and stabilize the atmospheric concentration of CO2 below 450 parts per million (ppm). At the time of writing, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have already reached approximately 405 ppm.1

Figure 1. Stabilizing Global Temperature Increase Requires Stabilizing CO2eq Concentration*

  • * The CO2eq concentration represents the climate forcing of all greenhouse gases, which are converted to CO2-equivalent based on global warming potentials from the IPCC 2nd assessment report.2 In 2100, CO2 represents 80–90% of the CO2eq concentration or 425–460 ppm CO2 for less than 2℃ temperature increase (480–530 ppm CO2eq).3 Figure reprinted by permission of IPCC from Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, Figure 6.13 a).4

How We Developed Our Approach

  1. Based on climate science and modeling by recognized authorities, including the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and the International Energy Agency, we developed a model of global and light-duty vehicle (LDV) CO2 emissions from different regions.

  2. Using the model, we calculated the stabilization emission reduction levels for LDVs over time, resulting in “CO2 glide paths” for the LDV sector (Figure 2), taking into account regional differences in vehicle size and fuel consumption, government regulations and biofuel availability.

    Ford’s estimated share of global LDV CO2 emissions is about 10%.

  3. We then applied the sector methodology to our new vehicles, to create Ford-specific “glide paths” (CO2 reduction goals) for our vehicle lineups across our major operating regions as well as CO2 reduction targets for our facilities.

  4. To ensure alignment with the latest scientific knowledge, we review our glide path model every year and carry out major updates every five years.

    Our CO2 model is not intended to provide “the answer,” but a portfolio of possible vehicle/ fuel solutions and insights into cost-effective mobility choices in a carbon-constrained world.

    In the absence of certainty about future regulations, the glide paths are an approximate guide rather than a precise limitation – being roughly consistent with the overall, long-term trajectory of existing and proposed fuel economy and vehicle CO2 regulations in a number of markets.5

Our Thinking on Sector-Wide Glide Paths

We have shared our thinking behind the development of industry-average CO2 glide paths (Figure 2) with interested stakeholders, have published the methodology in the peer-reviewed scientific literature6 and have received positive feedback and external recognition for our application of climate science to set our CO2 targets.

By following the 2℃ CO2 glide paths, the automotive and fuel industry would reduce global well-to-wheels absolute CO2 emissions by about 450 million metric tons (a reduction of 14 percent)7 between 2010 and 2030. Ford’s share is estimated to be about 10 percent of global LDV fleet emissions.

For the LDV sector to meet the 2℃ limit, all automakers must reduce their LDV emissions by the proportion prescribed by the CO2 glide paths. Although the initial (current) CO2 emissions rate varies considerably by region, to provide the significant emission reductions needed, all regions need to move toward similar targets.

Figure 2. Industry-Average CO2 Glide Paths8

Delivering Long-Term Reductions Across Our Lineup

Every year we review our product development plans to ensure our vehicles are aligned with the stabilization glide path. While our plans are based upon delivering long-term reductions in CO2 emissions from new vehicles that are similar to those shown for the industry-average glide paths, we anticipate that in some years, the reductions will be greater or less than those shown in the glide paths.

That is because delivering on these targets will be dependent to a large degree on market forces that we do not fully control (e.g., changes in energy prices and changes in the mix of vehicles demanded by consumers) and multiple other factors that influence our product plans, including regulatory requirements.

Refining Our Model

Because of the long timeframe of climate science, we only update our glide path model’s assumptions and input data on a five-year basis. In 2016, we began a major revision, updating the stabilization pathways and forecasts of vehicle sales and biofuel availability. The new stabilization pathway is specific to light-duty vehicles,9 instead of an all-sector pathway. Furthermore, the new pathway is based on stabilizing temperature rather than CO2 concentration. We model a 2℃ temperature increase stabilization pathway as our base case. In a sensitivity analysis, we explore a 1.5℃ pathway to learn about the implications of the COP21 Paris Agreement’s call for less temperature increase.10

Between major updates we conduct sensitivity studies to understand the effect on the glide paths of global changes, such as economic conditions, biofuel availability or regulations. We have also explored which combinations of vehicle and fuel technologies might be most cost-effective in the long-term stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Working with colleagues from government, national laboratories and industry, we have published an assessment of the cost-effectiveness of CO2 reductions of current (2015) and future (2030) alternative vehicle-fuel technologies.11 In our journey since our first public discussions of the need to reduce CO2 emissions in the early 2000s, the energy efficiency of vehicles has improved substantially and the costs of further improvements have increased. The imperative of taking a broad multi-sector approach when dealing with climate change is clearer to us now than ever before.

As climate science, alternative fuels and technologies advance, we will be considering ways to refine and adjust our science-based CO2 targets in future updates – for example, how best to factor in emissions other than CO2 – and how best to recognize the fact that to address climate change, cost-effective actions across different economic sectors are needed.

At Ford, we believe that collective efforts and a holistic approach to the challenges of climate change are essential. This is why we are focused on collaboration and engagement – working with other sectors, including fuel providers, utilities and even cities – to develop the most efficient solutions. At the same time, we will continue to invest in facilities, products and infrastructure that go beyond today’s business models and help create a sustainable future.

  1. E. Dlugokencky and P. Tans, NOAA/ESRL accessed May 2017.
  2. IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Figure 6.5.
  3. IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Chapter 6 and Table 6.3.
  4. “Figure 6.13 | Changes in global temperature for the scenario categories above 1850–1900 reference level as calculated by MAGICC. (Observed temperatures in the 1985–2006 period were about 0.61 deg C above the reference level – see e.g. WG1 Table SPM.2). Panel a) shows temperature increase relative reference as calculated by MAGICC (10th to 90th percentile for median MAGICC outcomes)...”.
  5. We note that, while the glide paths can provide a framework for assessing regulatory proposals at a high level, our ability to comply with specific GHG regulations hinges on the details of the regulatory program in the context of the relevant market.
  6. S.L. Winkler, T.J. Wallington, H. Maas and H. Hass, “Light-Duty Vehicle CO2 Targets Consistent with 450 ppm CO2 Stabilization,” Environ. Sci. Technol. (2014).
  7. Ibid.
  8. The E.U. and China glide paths were developed based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), and the North America and Latin America glide paths were developed based on the Federal Test Procedure (FTP), which are the testing requirements used by governments in these regions to assess the emission levels of car engines and/or fuel economy in light-duty vehicles.
  9. IEA. Energy Technology Perspectives 2016. OECD/IEA, Paris (2016).
  10. United Nations, Paris Agreement, 2015, FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1, downloaded February 9th, 2016.
  11. A. Elgowainy, J. Han, J. Ward, F.Joseck, D. Gohlke, A. Lindauer, T. Ramsden, M. Biddy, M. Alexander, S. Barnhart, I. Sutherland, L. Verduzco, T.J. Wallington, “Cradle-to-Grave Lifecycle Analysis of U.S. Light Duty Vehicle-Fuel Pathways: A Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economic Assessment of Current (2015) and Future (2025–2030) Technologies,” Argonne National Laboratory Report ANL ESD -16/7 (2016).