Expert Perspectives

The Role of Governance in Developing Long-Term Strategies, Canada

The authors are grateful for contributions from Emilie Brown, Policy Manager and Loïc Trottier-Le Bossé, Economist, both at the Strategic Policy Branch, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Government of Canada.


The Canadian election of October 2015 sent a new federal government to the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This new Government played a leadership role in finalizing the Paris Agreement with a strong commitment to addressing climate change, including amplifying Canadian domestic actions and international support.

The Paris Agreement also encourages members to develop long-term low GHG emission development strategies (LT-LEDS). Under Article 4.19 of the Paris Agreement, Parties are invited to formulate “long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies” (LT-LEDS) by 2020 as an important tool in limiting global temperature increase to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels. LT-LEDSs allow governments to identify and act on the benefits of a global transition away from carbon-based energy production and increase the likelihood of meeting decarbonisation goals.

In November 2016, Canada submitted its LT-LEDS, or “Mid-century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy” (MCS), to the UNFCCC, making it one of the first countries to articulate its long-term deep decarbonization considerations under the Paris Agreement. The other countries that have submitted so far are the United States, Germany, France, Mexico, Benin, and the Czech Republic. For the purpose of the MCS, Canada examined various pathways to achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2005 levels, an illustrative reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2°C, with efforts to hold the increase to 1.5°C.

Domestically, the Paris Agreement also launched a process to define the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF). This initiative, completed in December 2016, brought together Canadian provinces, territories, and the federal government to define a plan to meet or exceed Canada’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to decrease emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Historically, provincial action on climate change had resulted in a patchwork of varying climate change policies and carbon pricing across the country. The PCF is designed to ensure that existing subnational policies are complemented with federal measures as well as to anchor and harmonize rising ambition across the country. Moreover, the active collaboration of provincial administrations is a crucial part of a decarbonization plan in Canada, given that much of the legislative capacity on energy and environmental issues sits within the jurisdiction of subnational governments. Consequently, the overarching governance of the PCF gives all provincial premiers a seat at the table with the Canadian Prime Minister, thus ensuring that Canada as a whole moves in unison toward its climate goals.

On December 9, 2017, Canada released its first annual progress report on the implementation of the PCF. The report states that in 2017, Canada’s federal, provincial, and territorial governments made progress in implementing all four pillars of the PCF: pricing carbon pollution; complementary actions to reduce emissions; adaptation and climate resilience; and clean technology, innovation, and jobs. Programs and measures under the PCF, including a national carbon pricing policy and a national coal phase out, continue to be rolled out.

In practice, the development of the pan-Canadian framework on climate change provided significant insights and thorough analysis that helped the drafting process of Canada’s midcentury strategy. Much of the work undertaken by the PCF (e.g., quantitative modeling, forecasting, or expert reviews) was shared for the drafting of Canada’s midcentury strategy, which was taking place concurrently.

Governance of MCS Development

The role of the national government

It is the role of the national government to represent Canada internationally and therefore to take a leadership role on climate action. The Prime Minister gave Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) the mandate to develop a national plan in partnership with provinces and territories to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with international obligations. Since this effort responded to the Paris Agreement article 4.19, it made sense for ECCC to also lead the development of a long-term strategy—Canada’s MCS.

The challenge for ECCC in developing Canada’s MCS and leading the transition to a low-carbon economy is that all sectors of the economy are affected, and that it therefore touches on the mandates of other federal departments. ECCC required input from other government departments on particular sectors of the economy (e.g., the Canadian Forest Service, which models emissions and mitigation from forest management), and every government department had value to add to the strategy.

Two factors contributed to ECCC’s success: First, Canada’s minister of the environment is a strong leader and carries significant weight at the Cabinet table with her colleagues. Second, there is strong support from the center of government: the Prime Minister, in his mandate letters to all of his ministers, made clear that climate change mitigation was a central priority of this government and that all departments would have to make significant contributions.

Coordination with subnational governments

The Government of Canada’s work to develop Canada’s plan to meet or exceed its 2030 NDC—the PCF—had set up a process for working across levels of government and government departments. This included establishing federal-provincial-territorial working groups to address the four “pillars” of the PCF: carbon pricing, complementary mitigation measures, adaptation and resilience, and clean technology and innovation. Canada’s MCS was developed simultaneously and was able to tap into the collaborative processes being used across the federal government and with subnational governments. In particular, the concrete shorter-term actions being developed under the PCF helped inform the direction in which the country, and its MCS, was headed. Provinces and territories (PTs) were heavily engaged in the development of the PCF, and the MCS benefited from these PCF channels and collaboration. However, there were a few instances where the MCS benefited from direct inputs from PTs, notably “featured boxes” to highlight success stories from subnational governments.

Canada’s MCS was designed not to prescribe policy but to help paint a picture of the endgame for Canadian climate change policy. The pathways to decarbonization that it presented can be used to validate the policies and measures being put forward by all levels of government and reinforce the notion that, while the PCF is incredibly important for near-term climate action, much more action and effort will be required after 2030 to meet the temperature goals under the Paris Agreement.

The role of Indigenous partners and stakeholders

To engage external stakeholders and experts, including environmental nongovernmental organizations, industry associations, Indigenous partners, academic experts, and the general public, ECCC used the consultation processes under way under the PCF. Many of the suggestions and input provided related to 2030 were also relevant for the 2050 time frame. Additional feedback was also sought from these partners on considerations more specific to a longer time frame (e.g., use of biofuels, renewable natural gas, disruptive technologies, etc.).

ECCC drafted a discussion paper that outlined the thinking behind the longer-term strategy, as well as a potential outline for the report. The discussion paper was distributed to targeted groups with follow-up consultations to orient and inform the ongoing drafting process. Indigenous groups were also consulted in face-to-face meetings and had the opportunity to review the document and provide insights on Indigenous issues linked to a low-carbon future, notably on energy use and production (e.g., featured box on reducing Canadian northern, remote, and indigenous communities’ reliance on energy generated with fossil fuels) and electricity.

In addition, Canada held an “academic workshop” with key experts in the energy and climate change field to review existing work relevant to an MCS and discuss approaches to framing such a document. Many of these experts became formal peer reviewers of the draft report and informed the strategy with their area of expertise.

For example, in 2015 the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project published a Canadian case study that provided extensive and useful modeling analysis for Canada’s MCS. The project’s most ambitious pathway illustrated an 89 percent reduction from 2005 levels (to only 78 Mt), driven by a policy package of performance-based technology regulations and carbon pricing. Similarly, Canada also gained several insights from the modeling work of the Trottier Energy Futures Project, a comprehensive engineering analysis of Canada’s future energy systems, with the goal of achieving an 80 percent reduction in GHGs by 2050, relative to 1990 levels.

ECCC found this external stakeholder consultation process extremely valuable, allowing us to inform the MCS with the ongoing and extensive policy analysis and forecasting assumptions of experts in the field and to ensure a balanced representation of our vision for a low carbon economy across different groups of Canadians (e.g., First Nations, industry groups, environmental advocacy groups). In fact, the existing work and modeling already undertaken in Canada were of primary importance in drafting the MCS.

Links to other initiative and how to ensure messages are integrated in public discourse

When the PCF was adopted on December 9, 2016, Canada’s midcentury strategy had already been submitted to the UNFCCC. The PCF put in place a plan for concrete action with the implementation stages still under way to this day. These shorter-term steps advance Canada toward the outcomes outlined in the MCS.

Domestically, ECCC continues to promote awareness of the MCS as part of the PCF implementation process, including ensuring that longer-term decarbonization objectives (i.e., post-2030) are recognized where relevant (e.g., in order to avoid locking in carbon-intensive assets). Likewise, all government initiatives with a longer-term focus should build on the MCS’s overarching objectives, and deeper dives into subareas are encouraged. For example, Natural Resources Canada is currently undertaking the Generation Energy initiative, a nationwide conversation about Canada’s long-term energy transition.

To communicate Canada’s MCS conclusions effectively across all levels of government and to all stakeholders, it has been useful to simplify the findings of the MCS into key building blocks. These findings are common across all deep decarbonization work in Canadian literature and supported by ECCC in-house modeling analysis. One key building block is that clean electricity be used whenever possible for end-use needs across sectors, and that clean and renewable fuels be considered where electrification is not possible. Necessary enablers such as energy efficiency and demand-side management, as well as innovation in clean technology, are needed to ease the costs associated with the transition. Mitigation is required across all sectors, including lands and forests, as well as simultaneous abatement of short-lived climate pollutants.

These building blocks serve as starting points for deeper analyses of each sector. Key takeaways (e.g., deep decarbonization is possible with existing commercial, or near-commercial, technologies) also inform communication and policy strategies. Although Canada’s MCS did not define specific mitigation pathways or policies, the direction was very clear, pointing to deep decarbonization across every sector of the economy. ECCC continues to bring MCS considerations to bear at multiple committees chaired by the federal government to coordinate its own actions under the PCF, as well as those with provinces and territories.

The MCS has helped ensure that this message is beginning to resonate as an overarching consideration across all government and private sector decision-making and planning processes. For example, within government, decisions on infrastructure are now taking into consideration their long-lived nature. The Government of Canada recently released its Greening Government Strategy, which aims to reduce GHG emissions from federal operations by 80 percent by 2050 relative to 2005 levels, consistent with illustrative levels used in the MCS. Additionally, a number of private sector companies now include carbon pricing in their planning and processes, and some conduct long-term scenario analysis (including in-line with deep decarbonization objectives) to develop their shadow price estimates. Finally, think tanks are starting to include the work performed in Canada’s midcentury strategy in their modeling and assumptions.

As these messages become part of mainstream planning, it is important to keep the findings of the MCS relevant and current and not let the strategy “gather dust.” ECCC is continuing its work to explore pathways to decarbonization, including updating its analysis to reflect developments in policies and technology, and engaging in dialogue with interested stakeholders.

International considerations

During the development of its MCS, ECCC worked closely with its U.S. and Mexican counterparts to share experiences and keep abreast of the report’s development more broadly. This included discussing the scope of the analysis and narrative, the modeling framework and related assumptions, and key messages and takeaways. It was also very beneficial to be able to compare experiences with colleagues going through the same process related to elements such as timeline constraints and overarching communication objectives. Coordinated action on the development and release of respective LT-LEDSs could lessen fears about carbon leakage and competitiveness impacts from climate change policies, and support the narrative that the world is transitioning to low carbon economies over the next several decades. ECCC continues to encourage other countries to develop and submit their strategies, including by sharing lessons learned. For example, ECCC presented its MCS to the European Commission issue group on NDC implementation to explain the process and lessons learned to parties working to complete their LT-LEDSs. The department also led a side event at COP22 to showcase Canada’s commitment to ambitious actions and encourage fellow countries to follow this lead.

Some of the experiences shared are specific to Canada, but others, such as approaches to modeling (including underlying assumptions), and consultation practices, may be transferable to the circumstances of other countries. Other examples of ECCC’s international engagement to date in regards to its MCS include a series of bilateral and multilateral engagements, taking an active role in the 2050 Pathways Platform Initiative and a number of knowledge-sharing webinars, and presenting at a Latin American workshop on green growth strategies held in Mexico City.


Canada continues to advance work on and awareness of its MCS both domestically and internationally and is confident that its key building blocks will continue to play a strong role in the development of future nationally determined contributions and the policies and measures that underlie them.

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