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637-Page Roadmap – From Fossil Fuels to Decarbonization in the US

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Top scientists in the United States see an increasingly urgent need to create new strategies for reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change. Current policies have set the country on track to decarbonize, but reaching the goal of zero emissions by 2050 will require faster and more coordinated action.

Behind the New Report

Taking a significant step in the direction of this more sustainable future, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a sweeping 637-page document, Accelerating Decarbonization in the United States. The report offers 80 recommendations for how the country can justly and equitably transition away from fossil fuels, including phasing out subsidies for high-emissions animal agriculture, establishing a carbon tax, and codifying environmental justice goals.

The publication is the second of two reports exploring the nation’s transition to a decarbonized energy system. The first report offered a policy and technical blueprint for the coming decade, and it helped shape climate policies included in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.

Stephen Pacala, the chair of the committee that wrote the report, said the second report focuses on removing barriers to the energy transition. “With so much at stake, the main challenge now is the effective implementation of these policies. This report addresses how the nation can best overcome the barriers that will slow or prevent a just energy transition, and also fills some gaps in the existing policy portfolio.”

Seven Recommendations From the Report

Let’s explore seven key components of this comprehensive plan and its potential impact on reshaping the nation’s energy landscape.

1. Expanding the Climate Policy Portfolio

The report recommends that the existing subsidies and tax incentives of recent federal climate legislation be augmented by a broad social contract and an expansion of policies to include taxes and regulations. Specific recommendations include a national greenhouse gas emissions budget, a national carbon tax with provisions to protect low-income populations, and new standards on zero-emissions vehicles and electricity generation.

2. Ensuring Health, Equity, and Justice

Air pollution disproportionately impacts low-income households and communities of color, causing up to 350,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. The report recommends considering health impacts when making decisions around new technological or infrastructure decisions, and taking steps to reduce harm to communities and workers from the loss of jobs that are fossil-fuel dependent.

3. Strengthening the Grid

The report singles out the risk of the nation failing to site, modernize, and build out the electrical grid as the greatest threat to a successful energy transition. Strengthening the grid through permitting forms, modernization, and greater energy efficiency will help. Federal agencies should also distribute Inflation Reduction Act allocations to fund community engagement and technical help.

4. Improving Analysis and Reporting

Because the scale of the transition is vast, fast-paced, and complicated, the report recommends Congress designate an entity to oversee and execute transparent monitoring, data analysis, and reporting about the nation’s progress toward its net-zero emissions goal. This will ensure investments result in equitable and successful decarbonization.

5. Reforming Financial Markets

So far, communities have had unequal access to capital for climate and energy projects, a failure that targeted programs could address, the report says. Investors and regulators need to fully understand climate-related risks and opportunities. This would require that companies disclose better, more standardized data, including their total emissions, their products’ carbon intensity, or their exposure to wildfires and other climate change impacts.

6. Building a Trained Workforce

The report also highlights the lack of trained U.S. workers to implement current energy and climate policies and calls for new training and retraining for current workers in fossil fuel industries. Congress should extend unemployment insurance for those laid off in fossil fuel industries, and federal agencies should support schools in developing a curriculum that prepares K-12 students for jobs in a zero-carbon economy.

7. Managing the Future of Fossil Fuels

Though oil and gas will play a role in meeting the nation’s energy needs for the next decade, uncertainty about their future remains. The report recommends ensuring the safe operation of gas networks despite the falling base of ratepayers, tax reforms on fossil fuel products, funding for the closure and clean-up of fossil fuel plants, and assistance for communities transitioning away from oil, coal, or gas.

Decarbonization Is a Shared Effort

The report argues that the energy transition will require a national effort, involving all Americans and organizations and businesses across every industry, along with an adaptive and holistic approach by the government.

By taking the report’s recommended steps, its authors believe the U.S. will make significant progress on the country’s path to net-zero, and with it, benefit from reduced climate change impacts, cleaner air, affordable and equitable energy services, and better career opportunities.

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By evee Life Contributor

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