Block Island Wind Farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. Photo: Ionna22 / Wikimedia Commons

In the United States, many state and local climate change plans are built around targets based on outdated climate science, such as 80% emissions reductions by 2050. The IPCC 2018 report suggests that wealthy countries must go substantially further in order to reduce the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change. This study assesses the viability of more rapid decarbonization pathways for the Northeastern U.S. states. The goal was to provide new insights on the possibilities and challenges for major economic sectors like housing, transportation, and industrial emissions.The study was conducted by university researchers and the research institute that originally developed modeling, in a consulting role, for the state of Rhode Island.

The findings suggest that by adopting existing technologies, reductions of 70% to 80% can be reached by 2030, 2040 or 2050. Methane leakage from natural gas transmission and landfills remains a major obstacle to complete decarbonization, as do industrial emissions and air travel. The work provides first-estimates of sectoral and overall costs of these transitions, compared to maintaining existing infrastructure. A final analysis provides an initial examination of what impact modest behavioral changes would make on the speed and cost of decarbonization at the state level. The authors describe the context and generalizability of the study, and its methods and findings, and suggest directions for future work.