By many measures, the world is still in the early stages of a deep and profound transformation in energy, and industrial and agricultural processes. The aim of that transition is to achieve new policy goals for modern societies – among them, deep cuts in carbon dioxide and other warming gases. Success will require a reduction in emissions from current levels – more than 50 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents today, rising at nearly 2% per year in recent years – to essentially zero over the next few decades, while delivering the energy the world needs at affordable costs. This transformation will not be easy, for mobilizing meaningful economic change is rarely a simple process that proceeds without opposition. It is hard to pin down how quickly it may be occurring already. However, with smart policy strategies and profound technological change, the process can run faster, at lower cost and with more benefits to society.
This community paper focuses on the role of policy in these processes of transformation. The experience, so far, is that the societies making the most progress on deep decarbonization have all relied heavily on policy initiatives – to set ambitious goals, to create incentives for innovation and development and deployment of new technologies, to encourage scaling of superior solutions, to encourage new kinds of firms and markets, and to send clear signals about the need for change. With growing attention on the need for energy transformation, there has been increasing interest in the lessons from many diverse policy experiences. The key insight from this effort is that there are many good practices that can be replicated while new more innovative policies can be developed to drive deep decarbonization.