Climate is among the Biden administration’s top priorities. Soon, the administration will have a chance to demonstrate just how serious it is about combatting climate change when it refreshes the 2030 U.S. Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a pledge that will set the stage for global action on climate.
NRDC has shown that a minimum reduction in net GHGs of at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 is within reach and technologically feasible. And it will be cost-effective all while bringing significant economic and public health benefits for Americans in line with the administration’s Build Back Better goals. In particular, cutting U.S. greenhouse gas pollution in half by the end of the decade affords us an opportunity to deliver public health benefits especially to the most vulnerable, who have suffered disproportionately from air pollution for decades. It will be an engine for economic growth, creating millions of jobs and revitalizing domestic manufacturing. An ambitious and feasible U.S. NDC will also fill a global leadership void and put the world on a firm path to net-zero by midcentury. It makes good sense from all perspectives, and we cannot afford to fall short.
While NRDC’s analysis finds that such a goal would be achievable, there is no question that it is ambitious. Prominent shifts towards clean alternatives to fossil-based energy must keep pace throughout the economy. In the near-term, the transition will require unprecedented levels of clean energy infrastructure planning, permitting, and construction activity driven by federal, state, and local policy and reforms. Additionally, it calls for a robust policy framework that will shape consumer behavior, align investment decisions with the clean energy transition, and strengthen natural climate solutions.
We see a core set of federal administrative and congressional actions that would accelerate the transition already underway in some states, cities, and companies and put the United States in a strong position to meet an ambitious 2030 NDC, as well as on a firm path toward net zero by midcentury.
To succeed, we must be prepared to deploy a whole-of-government approach. At the federal level, this will require both executive action through existing legal authorities and Congressional action to pass legislation. Throughout the entire economy, everyone must make progress. The policies to focus on include standards and regulations through executive action coupled with Congressional action to boost incentives and funding programs that will deliver affordable and robust emissions mitigation across all sectors of the economy.
Standards and investment programs must aim to transition the power sector to 80 percent clean by 2030
The power sector is currently the second-highest emitting sector in the U.S., comprising 28 percent of net U.S. GHG emissions, lagging the transportation sector. However, it is key to reducing emissions for two reasons. First, the most cost-effective opportunities and technology components of a clean energy future are within the power sector. Second, electrification of vehicles, buildings and industry depend on a clean power sector to realize emission reductions.
Strong carbon and public health pollution standards for all fossil fuel-fired power plants must be set according to existing authorities in order to fulfill statutory requirements. Expanded tax incentives supporting clean energy and supporting technologies like energy storage, an ambitious clean energy standard, and federal funding for the build-out of interstate electricity transmission infrastructure are also key legislative policy components to reaching the 2030 goal NRDC analyzed. A number of states, cities, and companies already have such renewable energy or clean energy standards. These can form a solid basis for momentum towards an ambitious 2030 NDC, with federal action expected to play a vital role. In this decade, as multiple studies confirm, the electricity sector must aim for 80% clean energy, achieving around 85 percent reductions in CO2 below 2005 levels by 2030 in order to stay on track to meet a strong 2030 NDC. It will also be key to executing on the administration’s campaign goal of reaching a 100% clean power sector by 2030, as well as net-zero by midcentury.
Bold action in the transportation sector to promote pollution-free vehicles and fuels will put us on track
The transportation sector is currently the highest-emitting sector of the U.S. economy, accounting for 32 percent of net GHG emissions. By 2030, NRDC’s analysis contemplates a 41 percent reduction in emissions below 2005 levels in the sector. In order to achieve this, we envision a collection of strong policies that will reduce roughly half of the sector’s emissions this decade. The strength and ambition of policies must continue in the post-2030 timeframe, as our analysis projects that 98 percent of the sector’s emissions could be eliminated by midcentury.
Such policies include restored and strengthened GHG and multi-pollutant vehicles standards, minimum ZEV targets for all vehicle segments, expanded federal tax incentives for electric vehicle purchases, and funding for the build-out of ubiquitous charging infrastructure while ensuring access to these technologies by low-income communities. My colleague, Luke Tonachel, provides more on the policy outlook here and here. A growing number of automakers, states, and countries are moving toward 100 percent ZEVs by the early 2030s.
Strong policies to support building efficiency will be another core approach to cutting GHG emissions
The buildings sector comprises 15 percent of net U.S. GHG emissions. By 2030, NRDC’s analysis finds an opportunity to reduce emissions in the buildings sector by 17 percent through strong minimum federal efficiency standards for appliances reflecting best-in-class commercial technology, tax incentives for the purchase of electric alternatives to gas heating equipment, and sizeable funds for a home-weatherization campaign prioritizing low-income households. These measures have been consistently proven to deliver substantial savings to American consumers on their electricity bills while providing the same level of service. By midcentury, our analysis projects nearly all emissions (92 percent) from buildings are eliminated in pursuit of the net-zero target.
The Biden administration’s commitment to investing in American homes and buildings can benefit families and businesses across the country. Investments must be channeled to the communities in greatest need. Cutting emissions from the buildings sector coupled with ensuring equitable housing for all are the highest priorities and well within our reach.
Expanding efficiency and electrification in industry this decade positions the sector well for deeper reductions after 2030
The industrial sector currently accounts for 25 percent of net U.S. GHG emissions. Some of the most challenging segments of the economy, like aviation, maritime shipping, and cement are included in the industrial sector. By 2030, NRDC’s analysis finds that the U.S. could achieve an NDC of at least half by 2030 with a cut of roughly one-fifth (21 percent) in emissions from the industrial sector. Policies that would contribute to this include strengthened methane leakage regulations for oil and gas production, along with tax incentives and funding for the deployment of efficiency measures or low-carbon equipment in industrial plants. Increasing numbers of industries are committing to zero-emissions plans and deploying new technologies to achieve that goal. Strong progress this decade in the industrial sector is especially important to avoid reliance on costlier solutions for meeting the midcentury goal.
Robust regulations on federal land will also play a significant role
These lands sector regulations should be aimed at keeping existing carbon resources—older forests and larger trees—in place and optimally storing carbon, and developing programs to actively restore more degraded forests. Additionally, incentives for landowners to increase forest carbon storage on private land, policies to increase the protection and restoration of grasslands and wetlands, and reforms to agricultural policies to support emissions reductions and enhanced carbon sequestration and storage on farms and ranchland will also be important. The campaign to protect 30 percent of our lands, waters, and ocean areas by 2030 is one vehicle for conserving existing land sinks, and is expected to support these and similar policy objectives.
Finally, phasing out fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters, and developing strong standards governing oil and gas pollution and safety is also a key cross-sectoral approach to accelerate the transition. In addition, increased funding for the Department of Energy’s clean energy research-and-development budget is critical in this decade to develop cost-effective solutions for the hardest-to-decarbonize parts of the economy. Another essential objective of DOE research and development is to expand the range of available solutions and technologies. This will effectively hedge against unforeseen challenges, constraints, or possible delays in the long term.
We urge the Biden Administration to adopt a strong 2030 U.S. NDC to cut GHG emissions by at least 50 percent this decade, from 2005 levels. With the exception of the power sector, where most analysts agree on the level of required reductions and the policies needed, many combinations of policies throughout the economy that could achieve this target. An NDC of at least 50 percent by 2030 strikes an ideal balance among the most important considerations. It is ambitious, credible, feasible, cost-effective, and will lead to opportunities to improve all American lives, but especially for those in communities that have historically been disproportionately impacted by pollution.