Legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act has created a policy revolution since the National Academies’ 2021 report on decarbonization .
This shift towards rapid decarbonization will enable the United States to achieve significant emissions reductions over the next decade and give the nation a strong start to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
These efforts have already sparked tens of billions of dollars in investment and new jobs in clean energy and manufacturing in the United States. Moreover, these efforts are making environmental and energy justice a national priority by focusing on public health, energy affordability, technology accessibility, and workforce development.
Ensuring Successful Implementation
It is critical to ensure that existing decarbonization policies can be implemented successfully, with mechanisms in place to course correct as needed. Without adaptable policies, the nation risks missing its emission reduction goals.
Closing the Emissions Gap
Even if current decarbonization policies are implemented perfectly, the nation won’t quite reach 50% emissions reduction by 2030 , a key goal set by the White House. Further policies and technologies are needed to close this emissions gap.
These challenges could compromise the nation’s ability to achieve net-zero emissions in 2050.
The report identifies the key technology, policy, and societal needs that must be addressed to achieve a just energy transition and makes actionable recommendations on how to overcome implementation barriers and gaps.
A successful energy transition will require a strong social contract, so that everyone can reap the benefits of decarbonization, from improved public health to new economic opportunities. The report recommends prioritizing energy justice, supporting fossil fuel workers affected by the transition, and ensuring public engagement around issues such as infrastructure siting.
Demand for electricity will grow as the U.S. moves towards decarbonized sources of energy and towards electrified transportation, industrial, and building sectors.The report recommends increasing interstate electricity transmission, improving energy efficiency, and supporting RDD&D for emission reduction technologies.
Recent policies make substantial progress towards reducing emissions and achieving a just and equitable energy transition, but additional policies and programs are needed. The report recommends broadening the policy portfolio beyond financial incentives, incorporating evaluation and adaptive management to support equitable implementation, and establishing stronger standards and regulations.
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Despite groundbreaking legislation, additional federal policies are needed for the nation to reach its emissions targets and be a global leader in decarbonization.
Decarbonization offers states and local communities a wide range of environmental and economic opportunities.
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Energy justice should be central to U.S. decarbonization efforts, with communities meaningfully engaged in the design and implementation of transition policies.
The energy transition can provide numerous health benefits for communities including improved air and water quality.
Decarbonizing our energy system will turbocharge our economy through vast job creation, and decision makers can take steps to make sure all communities benefit from high-quality jobs.
Engaging with communities early and often, while delivering tangible benefits, is essential to ensure a successful energy transition.
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Decarbonizing power generation is essential to meeting the nation’s emissions reduction goals, and new transmission infrastructure will be critical to meet these goals and the growing demand for clean electricity.
Reducing the total energy demand in the built environment will require significant energy-efficiency improvements and advanced energy management, in addition to building electrification and property-level renewable energy systems.
Land plays an important role in decarbonization for both carbon storage and other efforts such as biofuel production and siting renewables and transmission.
Decision makers can take concrete steps to get more people driving electric vehicles and provide low-carbon transportation options that create healthier communities.
Significantly reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions will require pursuit of energy and materials efficiency, electrification, low-carbon energy sources and feedstocks, mitigation options, and supply chains that support low-carbon solutions.
The financial system can help ensure that all households equitably benefit from the energy transition through financing assistance and that the U.S. financial markets incorporate climate risk.
The long-term outlook for fossil fuels is uncertain, and advance notice, planning, and preparation will be critical to mitigate harm to workers and communities in regions tied to fossil fuel production.
Despite groundbreaking federal legislation moving the U.S. toward the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, additional policies and bipartisan action are needed for the nation to lead the way in decarbonization. The report recommends that Congress:
The report recommends that these economy-wide policies be supported by a range of sector-specific policies at the federal and subnational levels. More of the report’s policy recommendations are available on this page and in the full report .
With opportunities for progress on clean energy moving from the federal to the state and local level, subnational policymakers should take the following steps to maximize the economic and environmental benefits of deep decarbonization:
The report recommends that these broader subnational policies be supported by a range of sector-specific policies. More of the report’s policy recommendations are available on this page and in the full report .
Decarbonization can foster energy justice – but only if communities are engaged and considered in the development and implementation of transition policies. To implement an equitable path to net-zero emissions, decision makers can:
The national energy transition to a net-zero future provides an opportunity to address multiple health and energy challenges simultaneously. To access the health benefits of decarbonization, decisionmakers need to:
Decarbonizing our energy system will turbocharge our economy through vast job creation. Decision makers can take steps to make sure the transition is smooth and that all communities benefit from high-quality jobs, as follows:
Public engagement is a crucial element of the social contract needed to sustain the political and societal will for decarbonization. To support widespread public engagement in the energy transition, additional resources and strategies are needed to:
With power-sector emissions making up the second-highest source of emissions, policymakers should take the following actions in order to reach goals of 50% reduction in emissions by 2030:
Reducing the total energy demand in the built environment will require significant energy-efficiency improvements and advanced energy management, in addition to building electrification and property-level renewable energy systems. These building-level improvements should be implemented alongside community-scale projects such as mixed-use, transit-oriented redevelopment and shared renewable power generation. The report recommends the following actions:
Land used for agriculture and forestry is both a significant carbon sink (in forest biomass and agricultural soils), and also an emitter of greenhouse gases (particularly methane and nitrous oxide). Land availability is necessary for carbon sinks and is also critical to support other decarbonization efforts such as biofuel production and siting renewables and transmission. Dietary shifts towards more plant-based foods and reductions in food waste could significantly reduce land requirements for agriculture. The report recommends the following actions:
The transportation sector creates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, and it is ripe for deep decarbonization. Decision makers can take concrete steps to get more people driving electric vehicles and provide low-carbon transportation options that create healthier communities, as follows:
Significantly reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will require improving energy and materials efficiency, implementing electrification, using low-carbon energy sources and feedstocks, employing mitigation options, and developing supply chains that support low-carbon solutions. These actions can be tailored to address opportunities and challenges particular to industry type (heavy vs. light), size (small, medium, or large manufacturers), and geographic location. While funding from recent legislation will help spur industrial decarbonization, additional policies are needed to enable near-term emissions reductions and support the R&D needed to address mid- to long-term challenges. The report recommends the following actions:
The financial sector will play an important role in the energy transition by facilitating the flow of capital and financial services. Therefore, it is essential that financial institutions incorporate climate risk in asset valuation and stress testing to ensure market stability. The financial system can also help ensure that all households equitably benefit from the energy transition through targeted financial support and tracking access to government subsidies. The report recommends the following actions:
Fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – provide most of the nation’s energy and cause the vast majority of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and ambient air pollution. Beyond 2030, the outlook for fossil fuels is highly uncertain and depends on numerous technical, economic, behavioral, and market factors. Throughout the net-zero transition, advance notice, planning, and preparation will be critical to mitigate harm to workers and communities in regions tied to fossil fuel production. The report recommends the following actions: