Consensus Study Highlights | October 2023

Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States

Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions

Addressing climate change by decarbonizing the U.S. energy system is essential and possible, with far-reaching benefits for public health and economic development. Recent legislation has put the nation on the path towards achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but many challenges remain. A new National Academies’ report, Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States, gives sector-by-sector recommendations to help policymakers successfully implement an equitable energy transition over the next decade and beyond.

We’ve made early progress towards decarbonization

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.


However, there are still challenges to overcome:


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.

icon These challenges could compromise the nation’s ability to achieve net-zero emissions in 2050.

Key Elements for Successful Decarbonization

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.

Societal Needs

Societal Needs

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.

Technology Needs

Technology Needs

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.

Policy Needs

Policy Needs

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.

Necessary Actions to Decarbonize

Government, nonprofits, and the private sector have an opportunity to achieve deep decarbonization in a way that strengthens the U.S. economy, makes energy affordable, protects against extreme weather, and improves the health of their communities. The report evaluates how the nation might achieve an equitable transition to net zero and makes more than 80 recommendations.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Who is on the committee and how were they selected?

    The committee is made up of experts from a variety of backgrounds in energy technologies, economics, social sciences, physical sciences, and policy analysis. The National Academies take careful steps to convene diverse committees that have an appropriate range of expertise and represent a balance of perspectives.  See the complete list of committee members and read their bios on the study webpage .

  • What was the committee asked to investigate?

    The committee was asked to identify the highest-priority actions that the nation should undertake to achieve decarbonization, including technological, societal, and policy dimensions.  The committee was not asked to make a determination about whether the nation should pursue decarbonization.  Read the committee’s full statement of task on the study webpage .

  • How did the committee come to its conclusions?

    The study committee developed the recommendations in this report after extensively reviewing and discussing the literature on decarbonization pathways and hearing from a broad range of experts on technology, societal, and policy topics. As part of the study’s information gathering process, the study held a workshop on achieving a just and equitable energy transition. Learn more about the workshop and read the workshop proceedings here .

    Each committee member relied upon and shared his or her unique expertise to reach consensus across diverse perspectives. This report, like all National Academies’ consensus reports, underwent a rigorous external peer-review process prior to publication.

  • Why are social and economic factors important to consider for a net-zero transition?

    Net-zero emissions policy requires more than just identifying and implementing non-emitting energy technologies. The net-zero transition represents an opportunity to build a more competitive U.S. economy, to increase the availability of high-quality jobs, and to build an energy system without the social injustices that permeate our current system so that all can share equitably in future benefits. To maintain public support through a thirty-year transition, the U.S. will need specific policies to ensure a fair distribution of both costs and benefits.

  • How is this report different from the study’s first report?

    The study’s 2021 report on decarbonization identified key technology goals and societal objectives for the first decade of U.S. decarbonization efforts.  This report expands on the first report to evaluate how the nation can successfully implement current decarbonization policy, close projected emission gaps, and reach U.S. emission targets in 2030 and beyond.  The new report also covers workforce, public health, land use, and subnational policy in greater detail.

  • Who sponsored the report?

    The study was sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, Quadrivium Foundation, Breakthrough Energy, Incite Labs, and U.S. Energy Foundation, with support from the National Academy of Sciences President's Fund.

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