UCS Study Finds US Can Reap Significant Economic, Health Benefits from Meeting Climate Goals

Policymakers Must Accelerate Clean Energy Momentum Underway, Sharply Limit Fossil Fuels

Published Nov 16, 2023

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According to a study released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), with concerted action to build on existing state and federal clean energy policies, the United States can feasibly reach its climate goals. Doing so would generate tremendous benefits, including a more than $100 billion reduction in consumer energy costs in 2030, $800 billion in public health benefits by 2050, and nearly $1.3 trillion in avoided climate damages by 2050.

The “Accelerating Clean Energy Ambition: How the US Can Meet its Climate Goals While Delivering Public Health and Economic Benefits” analysis found that to meet critical climate goals—including cutting economywide heat-trapping emissions in half by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions no later than 2050—decisionmakers must significantly boost policies and investments that decarbonize the power sector; replace fossil fuels with clean electricity in the transportation, building and industrial sectors; and increase energy efficiency. Meeting U.S. climate goals also requires phasing out coal by 2030 and limiting fossil gas and oil within the next decade and beyond.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)’s clean energy incentives provide important momentum for the United States to make major near-term emissions reductions, but those could be at risk if fossil fuel use is expanded simultaneously. Additionally, while the IRA roughly doubles the current pace of annual emissions reductions to about 3% per year through 2030, the country will need to further accelerate its reductions to roughly 5% per year to achieve its climate targets.

“The urgency of the climate crisis requires a sharp turn away from fossil fuels toward clean energy solutions, and our analysis shows the United States can reap tremendous climate, public health and net economic benefits from doing so,” said Rachel Cleetus, a report author, lead economist and the policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. “The window to act is narrowing and policymakers must step up quickly or risk crucial climate goals slipping from our grasp. Moreover, they must ensure the clean energy transition centers the needs of communities that have long been marginalized, economically disadvantaged, and overburdened with pollution.”

According to the new analysis, an ambitious suite of policies to decarbonize the U.S. economy and meet climate goals would:

  • Drive nearly $1.8 trillion in total cumulative capital investments through 2035 and nearly $3.7 trillion through 2050. As part of that, the IRA, Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and existing state policies stimulate $1.6 trillion of the investments in clean energy and related infrastructure through 2035.
  • Reduce harmful air pollutants avoiding up to 44,800 premature deaths by 2035 and up to 73,000 by 2050 and saving more than $500 billion and $800 billion in public health expenditures by 2035 and 2050, respectively. The public health benefits come from decreasing particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions by 12% by 2050.
  • Avoid an additional $575 billion in climate damages by 2035 and nearly $1.3 trillion by 2050, when factoring in the social cost of carbon estimate.
  • Cause U.S. fossil fuel use to fall 82% between 2021 and 2050, with oil falling by 85%, gas by 72%, and coal being eliminated entirely.
  • Grow the use of wind, solar, and other renewables, which would nearly triple from 22% of U.S. electricity generation in 2021 to 60% in 2030, and 92% in 2050.
  • Increase U.S. electricity transmission capacity 36% by 2030, more than double by 2040, and quadruple by 2050.

“We’re not saying it’ll be easy, but we know that a cleaner and more just energy future is within our reach,” said Steve Clemmer, report author and the director of energy research and analysis at UCS. “The solutions are clear: Transitioning equitably to clean energy, increasing efficiency, and electrifying our cars and homes will not only save us money but will also improve our health and limit the worst impacts of climate change. Our analysis also shows that broader investments to lower overall energy demand provides another crucial pathway for meeting U.S. climate goals.”

When technological changes to the energy systems are combined with feasible changes to reduce demand in other sectors like transportation, buildings, and industry, the analysis found even more public health and economic benefits are possible. Additional reductions in energy demand help reduce the overall rate and scale of wind, solar, storage, transmission and other low-carbon technology infrastructure buildout. In turn it also limits the need for minerals, land, and new infrastructure and helps lessen siting, permitting, supply chain, and public acceptance challenges.

This report builds on the 2021 analysis, “A Transformative Climate Action Framework: Putting People at the Center of our Nation’s Clean Energy Transition,” by UCS and an expert advisory committee. The core principles in that report remain a guiding framework for this updated and more comprehensive analysis.

In the lead up to COP28 in Dubai later this month, the new analysis underscores the need for wealthy countries like the United States to step up the ambition of their emissions reduction policies to help meet international climate goals.

The 2023 report authors concluded by noting that “Policymakers have the responsibility to follow through, with actions that put the United States firmly on the path to a better future—a future in which we build a healthy, thriving world, running on clean energy, free of the fossil fuel pollution that drives the twin crises of climate and environmental injustice. As we fashion just, equitable solutions, we must think beyond carbon emissions, looking at all the ways in which our energy choices are woven into people’s lives and livelihoods. Anything less will leave a gravely diminished world. With the future well-being of people, ecosystems, and the planet at stake, our choice is clear.”