New Tool Shows Power, Transportation Sectors Offer Biggest Climate Pollution Cuts for Lowest Cost

A revamped ‘cost curve,’ which looks at a range of clean technologies, shows that low-cost action to clean up power and transportation can get the country nearly halfway to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

August 31, 2021
Chandler Green, (803) 981-2211,

 (WASHINGTON – August 31, 2021) As Congress negotiates historic investments in clean energy and climate solutions, a new tool by Evolved Energy Research, commissioned by Environmental Defense Fund, demonstrates that actions to clean up the power and transportation sectors offer the biggest and most cost-effective cuts in carbon pollution now. Carbon-cutting actions at low costs in these two sectors — the two largest sources of emissions in the U.S. economy — could get the U.S. roughly halfway to net-zero carbon emissions from energy and industry by 2050. These actions include boosting deployment of high-quality solar PV and onshore wind, electric efficiency, and electric vehicles (EVs), which align with many of the climate and clean energy policies that have been proposed as part of the reconciliation process in Congress.

These emissions-slashing opportunities are illustrated through a revamped Marginal Abatement Cost (MAC) curve, a tool introduced more than a decade ago and used by policymakers to compare the emissions reduction potential and marginal cost ($ per ton of carbon pollution reduction) of different technologies.

“The electricity and transportation sectors are the lowest hanging fruit for climate progress, offering the biggest and cheapest opportunities to cut carbon pollution right now,” said Morgan Rote, Senior Manager for U.S. Climate at EDF. “With the falling costs of renewable energy and the growing market for electric vehicles, supportive policies like tax credit extensions for EVs and clean energy can rapidly accelerate the emissions cuts we need this decade. This is a winning strategy all-around because cleaning up electricity and transportation will also create new, good-paying jobs and cut harmful air pollution that unfairly burdens low-income communities and communities of color.”

The new marginal abatement cost curve developed by Evolved Energy Research offers a roadmap to net-zero carbon emissions in energy and industry by making several improvements from traditional MAC curves. These include showing how technologies in the energy system can build on one another and offering insights on the time required to develop different technology and their markets. Traditional MAC curves only showcase the cost and emissions impact of a single measure at a single point in time, limiting their use in planning complex pathways to net-zero emissions.

Key takeaways include supporting policies that can deploy cost-effective measures now and funding innovation efforts to make newer technologies more accessible:

  • At low costs, carbon-cutting measures in power and transportation could achieve nearly 50% of the emissions cuts needed to get to net-zero carbon emissions from energy and industry by 2050. Many of the supportive policies that can harness these reductions have been proposed in current infrastructure packages, including tax credit extensions for EV adoption and clean energy deployment, infrastructure investments in public EV charging infrastructure, support for domestic manufacturing and supply chains, and more. To maximize even more pollution reductions in these sectors, policymakers will need to implement forward-looking policies, such as modernizing electricity transmission systems to accommodate high deployment levels of renewable energy.
  • Investments in newer technologies that are not yet widely available — including zero-carbon fuels that can support shipping, long-haul aviation, and chemicals and steel manufacturing — should be ramped up now and are required if we are to meet our carbon reduction goals. Support for these technologies today, through research and development, demonstration, and deployment funding, will be important for achieving net-zero emissions.

This tool only explores one side of the equation: costs. The benefits of climate policies are not captured in this particular analysis; however, these insights arrive on the heels of a multitude of studies showing that investments in clean power and clean vehicles, trucks and buses will generate massive economic and health gains, including:

  • New programs and tax credit extensions to drive investment in new clean electricity infrastructure can create more than 600,000 jobs a year over the next decade.
  • Transitioning to an electric grid that is 80% clean energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030 could prevent an estimated 317,500 premature deaths between now and 2050.
  • The reductions in smog and particulate pollution from moving to all electric passenger car sales by 2035 could prevent 98,000 premature deaths and provide $1.6 trillion in cumulative net benefits to Americans by 2050.

Read more about the findings and how to use the cost curve tool in this EDF blog.

Read the full report: Marginal Abatement Cost Curves for U.S. Net-Zero Energy Systems.  

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One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund ( creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 2.5 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund