Expert Perspectives

Long-Term Low Emission Development Strategy (LEDS): The Guatemalan Experience

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are invited to communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LEDS), taking into taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances (Art. 4.19). These strategies will play an important role in guiding countries toward the global temperature goals of limiting warming to 1.5-2°C above pre-industrial levels, and provide the necessary direction to inform the enhancement of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Developed and developing countries alike have recognized the importance and great value of capacity needs assessments as essential tools to build the capacities needed to develop and implement these strategies.

The cornerstone of the LEDS process is sufficient ambition, rooted in the agreement’s temperature goal. Countries must therefore understand and plan how they will achieve carbon-neutral economies by the middle of the century. In the developing world, the limitations of our current structures, our capacity constraints, must not hold us back, since it is precisely these structures that we seek to transform. Each country must start by envisioning its own carbon-neutral future and then chart a transformational pathway to get there from its present conditions. LEDS provide us with a vision and understanding of the overall range and depth of the change needed, and of the challenges we may encounter on the road to a carbon-neutral economy.

In launching Guatemala’s LEDS project, part of an international effort funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the team began by assessing the institutional framework and arrangements, both within the central government and among other stakeholders, in order to determine the current state of climate action and policy. This process helped establish a baseline for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, resource use, and economic growth in order to identify the key drivers of climate change and other development issues to be addressed.

During the consultations with government officials that were part of this assessment, it became clear that they did not always see the importance of actions to mitigate climate change. Many saw such measures as obstacles to development rather than as means to strengthen the country’s economic competitiveness and social development. The initial identification of gaps and capacity-building needs thus sought to frame the project’s response in a systemic and programmatic manner embedded within existing Guatemalan institutions.

During the initial phase of the project, the participation of key stakeholders was strategic for the adoption and empowerment of the LEDS. The LEDS formulation process is currently led by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Economy and Commerce, and the National Secretariat of Planning and Programming of the Presidency, as well as by the leading public institutions in each of the country highly emitting sectors. Sectoral working groups have been established for the sectors of agriculture, energy, industry, transport, waste, forest and land use, and urban planning (all included in Guatemala’s NDC). Each of these groups include broad participation from all sectors: government, the private sector, nongovernmental and other organizations representing indigenous people and other groups, as well as regional working groups on climate change.

This type of participation by key actors increases the likelihood of success of LEDS implementation by providing a comprehensive domestic policy framework, as well as periodic monitoring and review of progress in capacity building. Our national experience in Guatemala leads us to believe that some degree of capacity building will be required for any LEDS, whether in the generation of GHG inventory data, the identification of climate change drivers and impacts, the formulation of policy, or the mobilization of necessary stakeholders such as the private sector or civil society. Capacity-building efforts will undoubtedly vary from country to country, depending on national strengths and needs.

Guatemala has included institutional capacity building in its efforts in order to increase understanding and empowerment of the LEDS process and objectives. The project included support from specialists in the different ministries in formulating strategy and strengthening capacities in the area of ​​climate change. We believe that such national efforts need to accompany the work of international development agencies. The institutionalized collaboration of national actors in training, consultation, and awareness-raising efforts will enhance the effectiveness of projects seeking to mitigate climate change and its effects.

Already, such interactions have led to the formulation of sectorial methodologies that have helped ensure national climate action throughout the process of development planning, setting long-term goals and targets, and advancing, adopting, and implementing measures to reduce GHG emissions. Guatemala is not alone in this experience. Other countries that have seen the importance of multistakeholder participation in the context of the USAID LEDS project include Mexico, Colombia, Kenya, and Vietnam (Callihan et al. 2017).

Lessons learned

The national nature of LEDS project, and its focus on the public sector, has resulted in a number of shortcomings in capacity needs assessment being overlooked at the local level. Nevertheless, the strategy formulation process has been enriched by the consultation with regional climate change sectoral working groups. Likewise, at the local level, it has promoted training and the exchange of experiences in the agricultural, forestry, energy, industrial, and waste management sectors with respect to low emission practices and technologies.

The private sector

A key positive result of the project has been the coordination with the private sector, both outside and within the LEDS planning process. In many cases, participation in the LEDS process has encouraged businesses to look at GHG emissions in their operations and strategically develop corporate GHG inventories and mitigation plans, thus helping to ensure a low emission economy. Note that international markets are already demanding GHG emission or carbon footprint data from some supply chains.

During the 2015–17 period, the USAID LEDS project carried out major capacity-building activities with actors from the private sector (subsectors such as coffee, palm oil, pork, cardamom, and bananas). This capacity-building process offered basic training in climate change mitigation actions, as well as in carbon footprint and mitigation planning. The project worked with businesses because of their interest in access to markets or buyers who request GHG emission data or company-level action on climate change. In other cases, businesses involved in the LEDS planning process and working groups have requested assistance and training. All of these actions help inform the LEDS and help provide a sense of the degree of private sector engagement that can be anticipated in LEDS implementation. Although economic variables tend to move the private sector more than environmental ones, common ground can be found for LEDS implementation.

Local governments

In addition, the USAID LEDS project has implemented activities with governments at the subnational level to increase capacities for climate change mitigation. These efforts have focused on strengthening understanding of the importance of implementing GHG adaptation and mitigation practices and technologies, as well as their environmental, economic, and social benefits. These activities were carried out in pilot municipalities where there is potential to implement low emission technologies, as well as to estimate municipal emissions and absorptions and develop a municipal mitigation plan. The municipalities chosen were Todos Santos Cuchumatán (in the department of Huehuetenango), Pachalum (Quiché), and Flores (Petén). To guide future actions, a manual on developing a municipal LEDS is being drafted based on the experiences in the three localities. It will be piloted with a federation of municipal governments on the south coast during calendar year 2018.

The formulation process

Guatemala will finalize the development of its long-term LEDS in early 2018. The Guatemala LEDS formulation process includes the following activities for the specified years:

  1. Creation of an emissions and absorptions baseline for each of the six sectors (energy, industry, agriculture and cattle, transportation, waste, land use and forestry) (2015–16).
  2. The development of a catalog with mitigation options for each sector (2017).
  3. A participatory process with key stakeholders prioritizing mitigation options from the catalog (2017).
  4. The design of policies prioritizing mitigation options (approximately 50) for each sector and their final selection after a macro- and microeconomic analysis (2017).
  5. Drafting of the final LEDS document (early 2018).

In this process, Guatemala’s NDC is the main guide in setting targets for each policy and sector.

Guatemala’s LEDS works on both medium- and long-term targets (through 2030 and 2050, respectively). The medium-term target is the same as that of Guatemala’s NDC, given that the LEDS is signed by the president and ratified by the Guatemalan Congress. The longer-term goal is an opportunity to show more ambition for continuous improvement (2030–50).

Although the sum of the mitigation targets of the policies forming the final LEDS may be ambitious, the policies are expected to do much more than comply with the mitigation targets in Guatemala’s NDC. This will provide flexibility in deciding on the LEDS implementation plan, leaving certain policies for future revision while still reaching the NDC targets.

An important consideration in designing a long-term low emissions and resilient development strategies

The design of a long-term low emissions and resilient strategy program should begin by establishing a data baseline and updated housing, population, agricultural census information, as well as reliable statistics and projections on industry and commerce, and maps and recent studies of land use, forestry, and other industrial and environmental issues.

In order to generate such information, Guatemala’s USAID/LEDS Project carried out several technical studies between 2015 and 2017, including ones on firewood, livestock, and pioneer mitigation actions. These were supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and included the development of a land use map (2010). This proved very useful in helping actors from the private sector generate information and statistics to share at the sectorial LEDS meetings.

In addition, between 2015 and 2017 the USAID/LEDS project was able to provide substantial support to key ministries and the private sector by developing protocols for collecting data on emissions and absorptions as well as a national GHG inventory system that will eventually become the toolkit for future measurement, reporting, and validation activities.

The idea behind the protocols is to help the Guatemalan government transition toward a consistent, transparent, and internationally accepted method for developing its national GHG inventories, based on the 2006 guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The national inventories can be used not only to monitor progress toward NDC and LEDS targets but also to help ministries with sectorial planning and action in areas such as forestry, agriculture, livestock, energy, industry, and transportation. Validating the protocols and national GHG inventory system through a ministerial decree will help ensure they are utilized after the project ends.

The modeling and assessment of capacity needs still require strengthening due to the lack of a baseline at the time the process began. The capacity to calculate carbon footprints is being developed in Guatemala, but it will be insufficient to meet the demand for these services once the long-term LEDS is fully implemented.

In a country like Guatemala, where such efforts are relatively new, action on climate change mitigation will be a long process with complementary activities. The Guatemalan government needs stronger capacities in GHG accounting. Although part of the program has sought to address this by supporting the LEDS baselines, the GHG inventory protocols, and the national GHG inventory system, this needs to be supplemented with tools and capacities to help sector actors and businesses carry out their own GHG accounting and mitigation planning. In this regard, one step forward was taken last year, when the Ministry of Economy and the National Norms Commission adopted the ISO14064 guidelines for organizational GHG accounting, giving businesses some direction in how to develop their GHG inventories.


Technology development is essential in the elaboration of a long-term strategy. In Guatemala’s LEDS, existing technologies have been incorporated for expansion and scaling-up.

A mature, sophisticated technology development and transfer framework, suitable to the full scale of technology readiness and value chain of economic activity, must be tuned to each country to help develop a technology vision that will feed into and enrich LEDSs and the future long-term strategies. Such a framework will be a core tool to help productive sectors in business and industry identify the opportunities for economic growth in the low-carbon transition. It will also help achieve inclusive growth and other sustainable development goals.

Guatemala has created a national System for Climate Change Science (SGCCC 2018), which plays an important role in this regard. A consortium of universities, research institutions, and government agencies, the SGCCC plays a key role in analyzing current trends in climate action planning and in generating country-specific climate data and science for Guatemala that can feed into broader policy actions.

Funding for research and technology development, however, is far too scarce. Furthermore, there is too little access to new technology development happening worldwide, and technical papers on the potential of scaling-up are needed. Information is scattered throughout the Internet and scientific journals, but a clearinghouse (such as the new technology framework) should be developed to make useful information more easily accessible.

LEDS implementation will require technological improvements within the Guatemalan government, as well as in businesses, transportation services, and power generation, to name a few sectors. A technology framework can help identify the most cost-effective solutions for LEDS implementation and provide a practical pathway to adopting the LEDS policy options in Guatemala.

We believe that a LEDS and a future long-term strategy should include a chapter specifying lessons learned and future capacity gaps and needs in order to improve LEDS and ensure its future sustainability. More specifically, this will help deliver the capacities required for LEDS implementation and monitoring, and as such increase the likelihood of success.

Together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the USAID/LEDS project proposes to install within the Department of Climate Change at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment a small unit whose sole function would be to monitor the implementation of the LEDS long-term strategy and compliance with the NDC. This unit expects to receive financial support from the UNDP. The creation of this unit responds to the capacity needs identified at the institutional level. Discussions are still under way with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to determine the exact scope of the unit, though, at a minimum, it should coordinate with other line ministries to track sectorial actions with regard to the LEDS, assist with international climate finance opportunities, and compare future national GHG inventory data against the LEDS and NDC pathways for any necessary adjustments.

The final version of Guatemala’s LEDS project will become an important tool for both government and the private sector to draw support and finance from the international community and private investors for the implementation of certain policies and mitigation options. It also can shed light on good practices to incorporate into a future long-term strategy.

Annex: Future capacity needs

In conformity with Article 11 of the Paris Agreement, which calls for sustainable climate capacity building, the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB) was created. The PCCB met for the first time in May 2017 during COP 23 in Bonn, Germany. It is composed of representatives from 12 countries, Guatemala being one of the two that represent Latin America. The greatest challenge for the PCCB is how to approach the old paradigm of capacity building in a way that opens up new strategies needed to respond to climate change. These actions should in turn generate long-term strategies for low emission development in keeping with the ambition set forth in the Paris Agreement.

Here is a short list of needs identified in submissions presented during last year’s meeting:

  1. Capacities must relate to ambition and NDC implementation
    1. Understanding capacity needs and gaps
    2. Multisectorial long-term plans
  2. Enhance human capacity
  3. Develop baseline on capacities
  4. Analyze, develop, and implement policies
  5. Promote resilience, tools, and methodologies
  6. Promote gender-based and rights approaches
  7. Institutional arrangements
    1. Mainstream climate into national and local planning (2050 horizon)
    2. Coordinate actions in NDC implementation
    3. Best practices, public awareness
    4. Academic programs, scholarships
    5. Scientific and technology development
  8. Assess resources
    1. Address resource constraints for policy
    2. Enhance capacity to mobilize funds


Callihan, David, Piper Purcell, and Meredith Waters. 2017. Performance Evaluation of Enhancing Capacity for Low Emission Development Strategies (EC-LEDS). July (revised September). Washington, DC: U.S. Agency for International Development.

SGCCC (Sistema Guatemalteco de Ciencias del Cambio Climático). 2018. Home page. Accessed February 6.

All the interpretations and findings set forth in this expert perspective are those of Rita Mishaan, Ambassador to Climate Change, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala and member of the PCCB, with the support of Jerson Quevedo and Jonathan Schwarz, RTI International.