iScience, Volume 25, 21 January 2022,
A growing number of governments are pledging to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. Despite such ambitions, realized emissions reductions continue to fall alarmingly short of modeled energy transition pathways for achieving net-zero. This gap is largely a result of the difficulty of realistically modeling all the techno-economic and sociopolitical capabilities that are required to deliver actual emissions reductions. This limitation of models suggests the need for an energy-systems analytical framework that goes well beyond energy-system modeling in order to close the gap between ambition and reality. Toward that end, we propose the Emissions-Sustainability-Governance-Operation (ESGO) framework for structured assessment and transparent communication of national capabilities and realization. We illustrate the critical role of energy modeling in ESGO using recent net-zero modeling studies for the world's two largest emitters, China and the United States. This illustration leads to recommendations for improvements to energy-system modeling to enable more productive ESGO implementation.