It is no secret that, while Parties’ NDC’s represent an improvement over business-as-usual trajectories, they fall short of meeting the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals. Moreover, global emissions are not on track to peak by 2020, let alone steep reductions thereafter. According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report, to have a likely chance of limiting warming to 2 °C, carbon dioxide emissions need to drop to net zero between 2060 and 2075. To limit warming to 1.5 ° C, carbon dioxide emissions need to drop to net zero 15 years earlier, between 2045 and 2050. This will require significant transformation at an unprecedented scale and pace.
If our global community is to have a fighting chance of meeting these temperature goals, we urgently need to embrace more long-term and holistic strategies for our global development. Failure to do so risks driving investments towards incremental improvements: like replacing coal with natural gas or improving efficiency of fossil-fueled vehicles and appliances. These improvements, while sufficient to achieve NDC targets, are not sufficient to achieve the transformative changes, like transitioning to zero-carbon energy and electrifying vehicles, necessary to decarbonize the economy.
The Paris Agreement and its associated decisions recognize this need and invite Parties to submit mid-century, long-term low-greenhouse gas emissions development strategies. Such long-term strategies can help countries save money by avoiding investments that are not consistent with achieving net-zero emissions and climate resilient development. They can also send necessary long-term signals to the private sector, thereby fostering innovation and allowing companies to reap the benefits of early action.
Long-term planning also offers an important opportunity to integrate the consideration of multiple development objectives. The solutions to climate change are often also the solutions to other sustainable development goals. The New Climate Economy, for example, has demonstrated that climate action and economic growth go hand-in-hand, but trade-offs need to be identified and managed. The development of long-term strategies provides an opportunity to bring all relevant ministries, different governance levels (cities, regions), as well as a broad array of stakeholders together to plan and prepare accordingly.
We are encouraged by the countries that have already communicated their long-term strategies to the UNFCCC. We hope that others will do so soon, so that the strategies can guide implementation and the next NDCs. The perfect need not be the enemy of the good — in fact all of the long-term strategies submitted so far are intended to be updated (and we hope revised upwards) periodically. But it’s critical that we don’t delay their development, given that they can help direct investments towards clean renewable energy options, and sustainable long-term planning, in line with the necessary transformation to zero carbon economies and societies.