This year in April, the Biden administration announced a renewed commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. The goal is now to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.
The target is ambitious, but it isn't a pipe dream. According to a newly published analysis of existing climate models, it's more than possible with strong and immediate action.
By primarily focusing on the power sector, energy analysts have shown what initial steps need to be taken to triple the pace of the nation's historical reductions.
Over the next decade, the authors argue green policies must expand so that the electricity grid runs on 80 percent clean energy (double today's levels). To meet that pace and scale of change, the paper suggests the US should focus on deploying technologies that are already readily available like solar and wind power, as well as swapping over heaters for heat pumps and shoring up the reliability of the electricity grid.
While it's nice to know there are ways to expand clean energy by 2030, the current review is light on the details. It also suggests relying on technology that is not quite up to snuff, including large storage facilities for solar and wind and carbon capture technology, the latter of which has not been proven to work on the large scales necessary.
Without government incentives, like cost reductions and tax credits for electric vehicles and renewables, the US will likely fall short of its updated climate pledge.
"Although such changes have costs, they also have substantial benefits," the authors write, "including immediate and localized benefits of air quality improvements – and present opportunities for a more equitable distribution of both, which warrant further investigation."
The US power and transport sectors account for up to 89 percent of the emission reductions needed to reach the 2030 goals, and most of this can be achieved through fuel transitions.
Wind and solar capacity will need to increase two to seven times more than they have in the past, while coal capacity must be reduced by 90 to 100 percent. This will require shutting down plants completely.
"The substantial decline in coal use also requires attention to a just transition for individuals and communities affected by these changes and their complex political economy," the authors warn.
If the US can achieve this sweeping transition in the power sector, it could get the nation 66 percent of the way to its 2030 goals.
The green energy changes could then ripple outwards into other sectors of the economy, helping reduce carbon emissions across the board.
Electric vehicles (EVs) will be an important part of that transition. They will need to increase from 4 percent of car sales in 2021 to over 67 percent by 2030.
The Biden administration's goal is to get EV sales to hit 50 percent by 2030, but models suggest this may not be enough to reach the necessary targets.
The upfront costs will be immense, but so will the benefits. Some reports suggest a 53 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 could save $140 billion per year. The health benefits alone could equal tens of billions of dollars annually by 2030.
"This study should give policy makers and other energy stakeholders some level of comfort, by showing that everybody in the field is pointing in the same direction. The case for clean energy is stronger than ever before and our study shows that the 2030 emission target can be achieved," says energy analyst Nikit Abhyankar from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
"With the right policies and infrastructure, we can reduce our emissions, while saving American consumers billions of dollars and generating new employment."
We know what we need to do. Now we just need to do it.
The study was published in Science.