NRDC Report: U.S. Climate Action Delivers Economic Gains

Washington – A new report released today shows that a handful of key strategies can put the United States on the way to its climate goals while delivering billions of dollars in cost savings over the coming decades.

These five pillars – clean energy, electrification, efficiency, and natural carbon solutions and decarbonized fuels – are key to cost effectively achieving net zero by 2050, according to the report, Clean Energy Now for a Safer Climate Future: Pathways to Net Zero in the United States by 2050.

Accelerating their deployment can deliver an average of about $9 billion a year in net energy system cost savings compared to doing nothing over the next three decades. By 2050 these savings increase to $35 billion a year. 

By contrast, delaying action until the 2030s would increase total energy system spending by almost $1.3 trillion over the next three decades compared to the core decarbonization case. 

This report is based on modeling done for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) by the research firm Evolved Energy Research. It lays out different ways the U.S. could achieve its national climate goals, which require the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to less than half of 2005 levels by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. The report stands out for its focus on energy efficiency and natural carbon solutions as two of the key strategies that make reaching net zero by 2050 more achievable and cost-effective.

“It’s time to put a renewed focus on energy efficiency and natural carbon solutions as top-line climate priorities,” said Jacqueline Ennis, a policy analyst at NRDC and the report’s lead author. 

Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act was a historic step forward, but it’s not enough to get the U.S. on the path to net zero. 

“If we build on last year's climate law, the road to a clean energy economy can be paved with good domestic jobs and economic growth for all,” said Manish Bapna, president and CEO of NRDC. “To deliver, we need the right policies to cut carbon pollution from vehicles, buildings and power plants, safeguard more forests and farmland, and get new transmission lines built.” 

Additional policies will be key to accelerating this transition, including:

  • strong EPA rules on climate pollution from cars, trucks and power plants;
  • new and stronger building efficiency and electrification standards;
  • federal and state action to accelerate construction of new electricity transmission lines and renewable energy projects;
  • permanent protections for at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.

Read more on what can be done on energy efficiency in this blog.

The U.S. committed to reducing its climate footprint to net zero when it rejoined the Paris Agreement, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5-degrees Celsius as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

By comparing scenarios that, for example, constrain the build-out of renewable energy or delay the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, the analysis examines the impacts of and tradeoffs between different policies and energy technologies. 

“Right now, we are not on the path to net zero. The longer the U.S. waits to make transformational climate progress, the fewer pathways remain viable, and the more expensive the remaining pathways become,” said Amanda Levin, director of policy analysis at NRDC and a co-author of the report. “Accelerating clean energy solutions today can put our climate goals within reach and limit our need to rely on riskier, more expensive technologies down the road.” 

The four essential, near-term opportunities for the U.S. to decarbonize are:

First and foremost, carbon-free electricity is the country’s largest and most cost-effective opportunity to cut carbon pollution this decade. With the tax incentives in the Inflation Reduction Act and upcoming power plant standards from EPA, the power sector can and should be 80 percent carbon free by 2030 and 100 percent clean by 2040. Achieving that goal requires a profound buildout of electricity infrastructure – both renewable energy and transmission lines – in a very short period of time.

Second, energy efficiency can minimize the transition costs of decarbonization. In addition to other actions, by the end of this decade, all new buildings should have net zero building codes and all new appliances should adhere to high-efficiency standards. This should be paired with actions that promote energy efficiency investments for industry and transportation (e.g., aviation and improved freight logistics) where other decarbonization solutions may be more limited or expensive.

Third, electrification – the process of switching to efficient, electric versions of vehicles and appliances – can wean the transportation and buildings sectors off of fossil fuels. Most new cars, SUVs and pickup trucks should be electric by 2030. All new appliances should be electric by then, too. 

Fourth, natural climate solutions or other carbon removal solutions will be needed to balance any remaining emissions, such as greenhouse gas pollution from waste and agriculture. Right now, forest destruction and farming practices are shrinking the natural carbon sink. That must be halted and then reversed in short order. Protecting forests and expanding sustainable farming practices could help offset any remaining emissions by 2050. 

The analysis also reveals some other important facets of the transition :

  • Decarbonized fuels, such as electrolytic hydrogen or traditional fuels used with carbon capture, do have an important role to play in decarbonizing some of the hardest-to-abate areas, such as aviation, shipping, and cement and steel production. However, the use of these fuels should be targeted. Widespread reliance on decarbonized fuels in buildings and vehicles at the expense of electrification and efficiency would be substantially riskier and more expensive for American taxpayers.
  • If development of renewables doesn’t accelerate as needed, more expensive and complicated technologies – such as new nuclear designs and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage will likely need to fill the gap.
  • Electricity transmission, in particular, must expand substantially over the next three decades to keep pace with renewable resources. An annual growth rate in transmission capacity of 9 percent in this decade is needed, well beyond the historical 2 percent annual growth rate since 1978. 

“To reach the U.S. climate goals, we need a profound transformation of the U.S. energy system as we know it,” Ennis said. “But the sooner the United States takes action to address climate pollution, the cheaper and more predictable the clean energy transition will be.”

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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