International fast food giant McDonald’s has upped its commitment to fight climate change, announcing Monday that it will now aim to reach net-zero emissions across all global operations by 2050 at the latest.
Greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, can come from a variety of sources, but all contribute to the rising global temperature by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Transportation, agriculture and electricity production were some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2019.
McDonald’s joined the United Nations’ Race To Zero Campaign, a coalition of cities, countries, businesses and other institutions aiming to promote a “healthy, resilient and carbon-free recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and enables inclusive and sustainable growth.”
The campaign’s overarching goal is to help nations better adhere to the conditions set forth in the Paris Agreement, a legally-binding international treaty that aims to address and limit global warming. Member nations show hard proof that they are implementing initiatives to mitigate the threat of climate change, and the agreement works on a five-year cycle of increasingly ambitious actions.
In order to reach those goals, countries need the help of private businesses, and the United Nations has created a number of sector-specific initiatives.
McDonald’s signed on to the Business Ambition for 1.5ºC initiative, an effort for large organizations to reduce carbon emissions in hopes of stabilizing the global temperature rise to 1.5° celsius.
“We believe we have both a privilege and a responsibility to help lead on issues that matter most in communities – and there is no issue more urgent globally and of impact locally than protecting our planet for generations to come,” McDonald’s president and CEO Chris Kempczinski wrote in a statement.
McDonald’s joins hundreds of other U.S.-based and global companies on the green campaign, including Apple, Inc., Adobe, Clif Bar & Company, Dell Technologies, Etsy, Inc. and Facebook.
There are four minimum-level requirements for a country to join the Race to Zero campaign, the first of which is a pledge from an organization head that their company will reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible.”
Member companies must also announce and implement a plan detailing what climate-friendly actions it will take within 12 months of joining the Race to Zero campaign, and also commit to “report publicly both progress against interim and long-term targets, as well as the actions being taken, at least annually.”
McDonald’s had already begun to implement carbon-reducing procedures. In 2015, McDonald’s committed to eliminating deforestation from its global supply chains to “protect biodiversity, reduce our carbon footprint and respect human rights.”
In 2018 McDonald’s became the first global restaurant company whose target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was approved by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). To date, McDonald’s has achieved an 8.5% reduction in emissions across its restaurants and offices from the 2015 baseline, and a 5.9% decrease in supply-chain emissions from its 2015 baseline.
McDonald’s in the United Kingdom and Ireland are set to announce their sustainable business strategies on Monday, and regional corporate offices will work alongside franchise owners to “implement locally tailored solutions” in a number of climate-friendly areas.
The burger giant earlier this year announced its plan to “drastically” reduce the plastic in its Happy Meal toys worldwide by 2025. Beginning this year, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, McDonald’s restaurants are only offering soft toys, paper-based toys or books instead of toys made from "non-sustainable hard plastic.”
As part of its commitment to the United Nations, McDonald’s will also focus on growing its use of renewable energy, regenerative farming and circulation of resources.