Expert Perspectives

The Role of Long-term Strategies in Aligning Near- and Midterm Plans with the Paris Agreement Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

In December 2015, the COP 21 adopted the Paris Agreement and its objectives to limit global temperature rise in this century to well below 2°C, to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, and to increase resilience to the adverse effects of climate change. In Paris both developing and developed countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Prior to Paris, only industrialized countries committed to implementing quantified economy-wide emission targets for 2020, while developing countries were merely invited to reduce their emissions through nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs). The Paris Agreement has taken this joint approach to limiting global emission levels a step further, while at the same offering flexibility with regard to national circumstances. Like the 2030 Agenda with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement can be expected to significantly influence future multilateral policymaking in the area of climate and development.

The implementation of the Paris Agreement rests upon a framework of near- and midterm plans (NMPs) (manifested through national determined contributions [NDCs] that represent national policies and measures through approximately 2030), as well as long-term strategies (LTSs). Regarding the latter, countries are invited to submit long-term GHG emission reduction strategies by 2020. The first countries to put forward strategies with a time frame up to 2050 were Benin, France, Canada, Germany, Mexico, and the United States in 2016.

LTSs can play a crucial role in ensuring that NMPs comply with the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

The relationship between long-term strategies and near- and midterm plans

The introduction of LTSs under the Paris Agreement is expected to support the effectiveness of near- and midterm planning by ensuring that no measures are taken that contradict the goal of drastically lowering GHG emissions and strengthening climate resilience. At the same time, LTSs have the potential to transfer the recent opportunities and progress of the Paris Agreement process toward less tangible long-term policymaking. In this regard, a major—if not imperative—task is the alignment of these NMPs with LTSs.

According to the Paris Agreement, the design of an LTS must be consistent with the overall goals to be achieved within this century—namely, the temperature goal, the alignment of financial flows, adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, and mitigation of GHG emissions. Finally, the LTS should also adhere to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR), taking a country’s respective capabilities into consideration.

LTSs hence serve as long-term goals for deriving a significant reduction of GHG emissions or a complete decarbonization of an entire economy and can serve as guiding principles or visions for policymakers, investors, academia, and civil society.

Compared with LTSs, NMPs represent more practical and tangible roadmaps for putting realization of the Paris Agreement goals on track within the next decade. Against this backdrop, the value of the NDCs lies in their flexible approach, taking into consideration the individual circumstances of each country. However, the current level of ambition reflected within the NDCs is not sufficient to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, while high expectations rest with the accompanying process of monitoring progress and scaling up ambition (also known as “ratcheting up” or the “ambition mechanism”).

NMPs are often affected by the constraints of ongoing policy processes, with policymakers thinking in legislative periods, not decades. Thus, reflecting long-term strategy in present policymaking may provide common ground for the long term, shared among stakeholders, enabling them to make more farsighted decisions and take early action. It can also foster innovation—by sending the right signals to the private sector, for example—while subsequent innovation in turn can facilitate more ambitious NMPs over time. Furthermore, a flexible long-term planning process can provide the opportunity to consider evolving adaptation needs and mitigation opportunities. Thus, a longer-term national vision can help strengthen strategic capacities such as institutional and regulatory frameworks over time.

Aligning LTSs and NMPs requires managing them in a mutually reinforcing manner, excluding negative implications for either of them (e.g., watering down the ambition of long-term strategies due to short-term political constraints). A promising approach in this regard could be an ambition or “ratcheting up” mechanism for long-term strategies that fall short of full decarbonization, similar to the mechanism defined for NDCs.

In addition, the opportunity to align the Paris Agreement processes with the 2030 Agenda represents a unique opportunity. Indeed, this is a must, as the SDGs and the climate agenda are interlinked, for example through SDG 13, “Climate Action”; SDG 7, “Affordable Clean Energy”; and SDG 9, “Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure”—to name just a few. Thus, both short-term trade-offs between climate and development goals as well as mutually reinforcing action need to be incorporated into both climate NMSs and LTSs.

For instance, low-emissions development adaptation measures should be designed without negative impacts on further relevant sustainable development concerns such as food production, human rights, and gender aspects. At the same time, the transformation to low-carbon development can and must foster social and economic development, such as by creating jobs in the renewable energy sector, access to affordable energy and modern transport, food security, or health benefits through decreased pollution.

Germany’s approach to long-term planning under the Paris Agreement

In the absence of guidance on the design of LTSs under the Paris Agreement, recent submissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) may provide valuable insights for LTSs still under development. Among these early LTS submitters is the Federal Republic of Germany with its Climate Action Plan 2050, an encouraging example of aligning NMPs and LTSs, on the one hand, and linking these processes to the 2030 Agenda, on the other.

Germany’s long-term strategy is first and foremost based on a consistency with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement by aspiring to become largely GHG neutral by 2050. The LTS outlines a vision for 2050 regarding the country’s national commitments and addresses specific areas of action, including energy, buildings, transport, industry, agriculture, land use, and forestry. It also entails milestones and measures for each area of action that Germany plans to reach by 2030 and that have been already expressed in short- and medium-term planning (e.g., First Progress Report on the Energiewende, 2014 and Fourth Monitoring Report on the Energiewende, 2015). In addition, the German LTS is meant to consider the country’s economic and social development, thus making it an integral part of the German Sustainable Development Strategy, Germany’s framework for the national implementation of the 2030 Agenda. In order to take into account factors such as technological progress, economic development, and sector coupling, the Climate Action Plan 2050 will be updated regularly in accordance with the five-year review cycle of the NDCs under the Paris Agreement. This will be complemented by a monitoring process, which foresees annual reports on progress achieved. As successfully achieving the goals set in the Paris Agreement is a task that involves all members of society, the design of the LTS was accompanied by a dialogue with various stakeholders—including the states (Länder), local authorities, associations, and citizens—that produced almost 100 proposals for measures. Strong stakeholder involvement will also be part of the continuous review process. The main expectation connected to the Climate Action Plan 2050 is that it will create planning and investment certainty. Furthermore, it will support intersectoral cooperation for leveraging synergies across the defined areas of action (BMUB 2016).

The near- and midterm planning framework for action in Germany in relation to the Paris Agreement comes from commitments defined within its NDC. The European Union’s member states, including Germany, submitted a collective NDC ahead of the Paris Conference in 2015. It reflects the targets laid out in the EU 2030 Climate and Energy Framework, including an economy-wide target of at least 40 percent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030. All EU member states contribute to this target in a collective way with measures taking into consideration national circumstances. At the domestic level, Germany currently follows the Climate Action Programme 2020, which includes over 100 individual measures designed to ensure that the national target of a reduction in GHG emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 is met. Near- and midterm planning are connected to the LTS by including these as milestones on the way to the overall targets for 2050. Furthermore, any review of near- and midterm strategies, such as scaling up NDC ambition under the Paris Agreement, is supposed to have an immediate impact on the LTS, meaning that review processes of different levels are aligned with each other. 

In addition to including climate policy in the narrow sense, the 2016 German Sustainable Development Strategy (GSDS) puts particular emphasis on policy coherence and stakeholder engagement. Both elements provide valuable implications for strengthening the linkages between SDGs and the LTS, going beyond climate goals.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, the crosscutting nature of climate change requires realizing more synergies among diverse planning approaches and higher levels of coherence in policymaking and implementation. LTSs, which align with NMPs across sectors, can provide essential guidance for realizing these synergies.

Regarding the alignment of LTSs and NMPs, a structured approach with an informed LTS design process, an interlinked monitoring and evaluation system, and cooperation on review processes is of vital importance. Designing LTSs should also foster transparency of the system, including for “locking in” existing commitments.

In this context, monitoring and evaluation of both NMPs and LTSs need to be aligned to secure synergies. A comprehensive evaluation of the long-term implications and linking potential of existing near- and midterm domestic processes (NDC, LEDS, relevant policies and measures, etc.) will be required. Germany, for instance, foresees annual reporting under the LTS process, which will have implications for NMP design. With this, Germany might provide a valuable example for the evolution of LTS targets; these can be linked to the review process of the NMP. By building on frequently reviewed NMP goals, ambition can be increased to keep on track with the ultimate goal of a decarbonized society. Furthermore, for the 2030 Agenda the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) has the central role in overseeing follow-up and review processes at the global level. This could be productively linked with the Paris Agreement review processes for both NMPs and LTSs.

Relating to this, LTSs must not solely focus on climate aspects but instead build on the principles of the 2030 Agenda, particularly the balanced recognition of the three dimensions—economic, social, and ecological—of sustainable development. Long-term viable solutions can only be achieved if interdependencies between all dimensions are taken into account. It is particularly important that climate and development finance reflect this thinking. In terms of institutional coordination, the GSDS establishes an interdepartmental working group on “strategic foresight” that considers explicitly cross-cutting opportunities and risks in the medium and long-term in advising state secretaries. In addition, high-level focal points for sustainable development are appointed in each ministry to increase the coherence and importance of the policy area.

At the global level, the more than 70 current members of the NDC Partnership have committed to better align climate and development agendas. The Partnership adopted a three-pronged approach to driving ambitious climate goals while enhancing sustainable development: (1) facilitating technical assistance and capacity building, (2) facilitating financial support for NDC implementation, and (3) creating and disseminating knowledge to fill information gaps. It strives to align development strategies and development cooperation toward a low-emission, climate-resilient, and sustainable development pathway. Recognizing the need to anchor NDCs in long-term objectives, “promoting long-term climate action” is one of the guiding principles of the NDC Partnership.

Another guiding principle of the NDC Partnership is “multistakeholder engagement,” as broad engagement of all relevant stakeholders (public sector, private sector, and civil society) is imperative for successfully defining and implementing ambitious climate and development targets in line with the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. LTSs and NMPs should therefore be designed in consultative processes, including all relevant stakeholders. The public deliberation on the German LTS might serve as a helpful experience in this respect. As determined by an external evaluation, the consultations were well received by participating associations across all sectors as well as by involved citizens. Similarly, the Sustainability Forum put forward in the GSDS institutionalizes regular multistakeholder dialogue with the Federal Chancellery on sustainable development topics. Such formats build the ground for reflecting the interconnected nature of sustainability and climate policy in sound long-term planning. I expect the NDC Partnership to enable many more promising examples of inclusive stakeholder engagement in the near future.

In sum, coherent and well-coordinated LTS development has real potential to facilitate increased ambition and policy coherence. LTSs allow NDC reviews to maintain momentum toward the Paris goals while strengthening necessary links with the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Achieving a climate-resilient and truly sustainable future requires strategic guidance. Effective long-term strategies can deliver this much needed framework.

References and Further Reading

BMUB (German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building, and Nuclear Safety). 2016. German Climate Action Plan 2050.

BMUB. 2020. Climate Action Programme 2020.

BMZ (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development). 2016. “Global Partnership for the Implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)—NDC Partnership.”

Climate Action Tracker. 2016. “CAT Emissions Gaps.” November 10.

DIE (German Development Institute). 2017. “Long-Term Strategies for Climate Resilient Development.” Event, Bonn, May 15. 

DIE. 2017. “Interconnections between the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement.” Conference, Bonn, May 12–13.

European Commission. 2015. “2030 Climate and Energy Framework.”

Fransen, Taryn, and Kelly Levin. 2016. “How Countries Can Align Long-Term Climate Strategies with the Paris Agreement.” Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.

Germany. 2016. “Climate Action Plan 2050.”

Germany. 2016. German Sustainable Development Strategy. New version.;jsessionid=292EC346F888BF2A34D197A3E6468BDC.s3t2?__blob=publicationFile&v=2.

GIZ (German Ministry for International Cooperation). 2017. “Sectoral Implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): Overview.”

UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). 2014. “2018 Facilitative Dialogue 2018 (Talanoa Dialogue).”

UNFCCC. 2015. “The Paris Agreement.”

UNFCCC. 2017. “Communication of Long-Term Strategies.”

UN Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

WWF and CARE International. 2017. “Twin Tracks: Developing Sustainably and Equitably in a Carbon-Constrained World.”

All the interpretations and findings set forth in this expert perspective are those of the author alone.