The world today faces a transformation of its energy system, from one dominated by fossil fuel combustion to one with greatly reduced emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG). To help policy makers, businesses, communities, and the public better understand what a transition to net-zero emissions would mean for the United States, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of experts to investigate how the country could best decarbonize its energy system. The committee was tasked to assess the technological, social, and behavioral dimensions of policies and research activities required over the next 5 to 20 years to put the United States on a path to net-zero emissions by midcentury. This interim report of the committee provides a technical blueprint and policy manual for the U.S. energy system over the first critical 10 years of a 30-year effort to transform to net-zero GHG emissions. It focuses on “no-regrets” actions that would be robust to uncertainty about the system’s final technological mix, and hedging actions that can keep open as many viable paths to net zero as possible.
Net-zero policy is about more than non-emitting energy technologies, because the manner in which the U.S. economy produces and consumes energy impacts a host of other issues that people care deeply about. The committee recognizes that the energy transition provides an opportunity to build a more competitive U.S. economy, to increase the availability of high-quality jobs, to build an energy system without the social injustices that permeate the current system, and to allow those individuals and businesses that are marginalized today to share equitably in future benefits. To maintain public support through a 30-year transition, the United States will need specific policies to ensure a fair distribution of both costs and benefits. Maintaining public support through a three-decade transition to net zero simply cannot be achieved without the development and maintenance of a strong social contract.
The committee agreed on the following technological and socioeconomic goals for net-zero policy during the 2020s:
- Invest in energy efficiency and productivity.
- Electrify energy services in transportation, buildings, and industry.
- Produce carbon-free electricity.
- Plan, permit, and build critical infrastructure.
- Expand the innovation toolkit.
- Strengthen the U.S. economy.
- Promote equity and inclusion.
- Support communities, businesses, and workers.
- Maximize cost-effectiveness.
This report identifies federal policies to advance these goals and to meet quantitative milestones along the path to net zero. Local, state, and regional policies will be included in the final report. Collectively, the recommended federal policies would catalyze the first 10 years of a transition to net zero and provide the associated environmental, health, and societal benefits, while controlling costs, protecting the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, and compensating for market failures. The policies would also increase the number of high-quality manufacturing jobs, while protecting vulnerable workers and communities, and would reestablish U.S. leadership in energy innovation, manufacturing, and marketing, while building a more just energy system.