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Report explores ways to ramp up decarbonization of the U.S. energy system

February 18, 2021
By: Connor LaVelle

Policymakers will need to consider the larger social and economic conditions associated with efforts to decarbonize the U.S. energy system if the nation is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. These broader considerations of future energy policy play a core role within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s recently released report Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States: Technology, Policy, and Societal Dimensions, which details the varying dimensions of research and policy activities that are needed throughout the next 30 years to reach net-zero emissions by midcentury.

While the environmental benefits of decarbonization efforts are apparent, the National Academies report examines how these policies can also serve as drivers for the broader economy and simultaneously stimulate investment in innovation. The report reveals how future policy changes throughout the energy system can address the long-standing inequities throughout the nation’s energy grid, noting that policymakers should consider inclusion a core goal of any future energy sector policy. Equity-based policy recommendations in the report include the establishment of a White House Office of Equitable Energy Transitions that would provide annual reporting on equitable energy indicators and the support for rural broadband internet access to provide communities with more advanced metering equipment.

The goal of net-zero carbon emissions is charted for 2050, however the report makes clear that it is the next 10 years that will dictate the United States’ success in achieving the 2050 target. The National Academies report focuses its policy recommendations and goals within this 10-year time frame because it finds that a strong near-term commitment towards equitable decarbonization can serve as a foundation for the longer-term goal of net-zero emissions. Policy suggestions, such as establishing an economy-wide price on carbon and developing a National Transition Task Force for monitoring the transition’s effects on communities and labor sectors, serve as current policy ideas that will help develop a stronger framework for long-term decarbonization throughout the nation.

As the movement towards decarbonization continues to grow in Washington, exemplified by President Biden’s recent executive orders halting new fossil fuel leases on federal lands and transitioning the federal fleet of automobiles to electric vehicles, the National Academies’ policy recommendations and goals provide a potential pathway for policymakers to expand their efforts towards reaching decarbonization while also providing economic and social benefits for the nation.

An interactive table of the National Academies’ policy suggestions can be found here, while the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s full report can be accessed here.

energy, policy, emissions