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How Long-Term Visions for Climate Can Advance the G20 Economic Agenda

Ministers from the world's largest and most powerful nations will convene later this week in Nagano, Japan for the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth. The G20 has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to strong and sustainable growth, recognizing that "a strong economy and a healthy planet are mutually reinforcing." Without climate action, we face mounting risks to our economies and to human lives of natural disasters like floods, droughts and extreme storm events. The coming year presents a unique opportunity to deliver on this commitment by advancing climate action under the Paris Agreement on climate change. To do so, it's critical that G20 countries take two actions: Developing long-term emissions-reduction strategies through 2050, ideally targeting net zero emissions, and enhancing their current national climate plans, known as "Nationally Determined Contributions" (NDCs).

For the past two years, at the invitation of the Argentine and Japanese G20 presidencies, UNDP and WRI have together advised the G20 Climate and Sustainability Working Group on the key role that long-term strategies and NDCs can play to advance the G20 agenda and address climate change. Six G20 countries have already submitted long-term strategies, and more are on their way. When Japan submits the strategy it published earlier this week, it will bring the total to seven. Notably, the European Council will vote later this month on a proposal to go climate-neutral by 2050 and consider whether it can commit to enhancing its NDC in 2020. Likewise, the United Kingdom has committed to pass legislation calling for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Considering the accelerating impacts of the current climate crisis, we must continue to build on this progress. Here are key things to know from our report launched today:

Climate Action Is Core to the G20 Agenda on Economic Growth

Without stemming rising temperatures, sustainable growth cannot be achieved. The latest science finds that if we fail to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F), the impact of climate change will dramatically increase. This means droughts, floods, sea level rise, extreme heat and extreme weather events will increase in intensity and frequency, putting in peril economic growth, not to mention human lives. In the last year alone, we have seen record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires around the world, and devastating storms wrecking communities and stealing lives. This will only get worse if we do not tackle climate change.

Tackling climate change not only mitigates these impacts, but also creates other far-reaching benefits. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate recently estimated that accelerating climate action would produce $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. It would also create 65 million jobs and avoid around 700,000 premature deaths due to air pollution. NDCs and long-term strategies can help deliver these and many other benefits at the nexus of climate and economic development.

Long-term Strategies and NDCs Work Together to Advance Climate and Development Action

Long-term strategies and NDCs are both essential. Long-term strategies serve to map out an aspirational vision for the future, laying out pathways for achieving not only a country's ambitious climate goals, but also Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets like eliminating poverty and achieving good health. Taking a long-term view allows countries to prioritize actions that support NDC implementation; avoid locking in carbon-intensive technologies, land use, and infrastructure; and support a just transition for those whose livelihoods are currently tied to high-emission sectors.

If a long-term strategy maps out a marathon course, NDCs are the mile markers. An effective NDC translates a long-term vision into the specific milestones countries need to meet in the near and medium term to ensure they end up at the finish line in time. Strong NDC implementation plans, in turn, support countries to achieve these milestones, working in concert with robust NDC governance frameworks, data management systems and budgetary processes.

G20 Countries Must Enhance NDC Ambition to Ensure a Sustainable Future

Countries' current NDCs do not yet align with the long-term vision of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees C or 1.5 degrees C (3.6 or 2.7 degrees F). If all current NDCs are fully implemented, projections indicate that we'll end up with closer to 3 degrees C of warming, or more. (That's the difference between 10% and 100% of Arctic sea ice melting, and droughts that last 2 months versus 10 months on average.) Responsible for nearly 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, G20 countries are uniquely empowered to change this outcome.

An important step in the right direction will be to respond to UN Secretary-General António Guterres' call to come to the UN Climate Summit this September "with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050." Fortunately, remarkable progress since 2015 – for example, plummeting renewable energy costs and unprecedented growth in electric vehicles – means that opportunities abound to enhance NDC ambition.

Countries Can Tackle Long-term Strategies and Enhanced NDCs Together

Time is short to deliver both long-term strategies and enhanced NDCs by next year. Fortunately, the process of developing a long-term strategy and enhancing an NDC is highly synergistic. Both can leverage common governance arrangements and stakeholder consultation processes. Both can draw from the same scenario-development and modeling exercises, translating them into concrete actions.

Ultimately, ensuring a coherent package of long-term strategies and – crucially, more ambitious near- and medium-term climate action plans – will help the G20 deliver on its sustainable growth agenda.

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