Expert Perspectives

The Role of Long-term Low GHG Development Strategies in Aligning Near- and Midterm Plans with Addressing Climate Change

Felipe Ferreira is a Brazilian diplomat. He served as Brazil’s lead negotiator on mitigation issues during negotiations for the Paris Agreement (2013-2015) and as head of the Division of Climate Change at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2015-2017). The views here expressed are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brazilian government. The author would like to thank Christina Voigt, Paulo Chiarelli, and Taryn Fransen, whose comments and inputs have greatly improved earlier drafts of this text.

The cumulative nature of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their effects over time require a long-term perspective on the global effort against climate change. The concept of long-term strategies was therefore not particularly controversial during the negotiations of the Paris Agreement, at least not compared to the difficult discussions on the nature of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

The agreement itself recognizes, particularly in its preamble and Articles 3 and 4.3, the need for a progressive response to climate change. In other words, it is clear from the very design of the agreement that the first rounds of NDCs would not be able to address the scale of the challenge. In fact, the whole agreement is structured to continuously promote the enhancement of ambition over time, taking into account the collective progress toward its goals. The operationalization of this progressive response was captured in at least two ways: through the iterative process of communicating successive NDCs every five years, taking into account the outcome of the global stocktakes,1 as well as through the invitation in Article 4, Paragraph 19, that “all Parties should strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies, mindful of Article 2 taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”

The long-term strategies are thus to a great extent supposed to be complementary to the NDCs. While the latter specify concrete measures and outcomes expected in the short term (up to 10 years), the former point to a general “direction of travel” in the long run. What is meant by “long-term” is clarified as “mid-century” in decision 1/CP.21, establishing a connection between long-term strategies, the temperature goal of Article 2, and the emission trajectory described in Article 4.1.

As such, long-term strategies also symbolize the notion that the Paris Agreement is not constrained to a specific point in time and does not have an “end date.” It is a continuous and irreversible process meant to guide the global effort against climate change over decades.

Nonetheless, to see long-term strategies as just “a big NDC” would be to miss an opportunity. In order to increase their chances of success, long-term strategies need to be elaborated in a broader context, not just to reduce emissions but for sustainable development as a whole. This broader context is also explicitly referenced in Articles 2 and 4.1 of the agreement, which set mitigation efforts in the context of sustainable development. Their preparation and implementation therefore needs to interact with other areas, in a comprehensive and long-term manner, with a view to integrating climate change considerations into other realms of government planning and policy making. Such a comprehensive approach would enhance the chances of identifying opportunities for effective climate actions, as opposed to seeing them as limitations or burdens to development.

Although there is a self-evident relationship with the NDCs, the reference to long-term strategies as part of Article 4 of the Paris Agreement should not be seen as restricting them to mitigation. Several NDCs also include other components, such as the adaptation communication referred to in Article 7.10, or finance and support considerations. There is no need, however, to open a potentially controversial discussion on the scope of the long-term strategies (such as the one that persists at ongoing negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). It suffices to recall that Article 4.19 defines long-term strategies, after all, as low GHG emission development strategies, and therefore they should address different dimensions of sustainable development. They contrast with the NDC not only in temporal aspects but also in their comprehensiveness. They should not be merely midcentury mitigation targets but rather indicate how the country envisions its development in the long run—“the future we want,” so to speak.

One must also take into account the strategies’ voluntary character and long-term perspective. Their formulators will probably not be held accountable for them. This poses challenges, for it entails the risk of creating a perverse incentive to communicate a self-contained document, restricted to and prepared with the best intentions to cater to particular constituencies in the climate change community. We should not fall into this trap. A stand-alone document  would most likely miss the mark, as it would fail to take into account the multitude of other agents, sectors, institutions, processes, and policy areas that may contribute to (or hinder) the achievement of climate change goals. There is a need for long-term low GHG emission strategies to effectively interact with and integrate into other social and economic areas and sectors. This interaction would benefit from the existence of institutional mechanisms linking long-term strategies with other areas of government planning.

Governments should take the opportunity provided by the preparation of their long-term low GHG development strategies to structure their planning processes in a manner that takes climate change into account—including, but not limited to, by strengthening measures to achieve their successive NDCs. NDCs are but one component of the equation; governmental planning processes also extend to the energy sector, agricultural incentives, infrastructure plans, industrial standards and regulations, building codes, and land tenure, among other domains. A constant interaction between the long-term strategies and other near- and midterm policies, measures, and planning processes would thus promote alignment between national planning processes, national regulation and/or legislation, and climate change goals. This would send important signals and provide predictability to the private sector and, in turn, guide investment decisions, including the mobilization of climate finance.

In Brazil, there have been important initiatives in modeling mitigation scenarios and identifying corresponding policies and measures.  These exercises have been conducted by government agencies – most notably the project Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Options in Brazil’s Key Sectors,2 led by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation, and Communication, with support from the Global Environmental Facility – as well as by civil society – particularly the IES-Brazil project,3 led by the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. These modeling initiatives have innovated through integrated analysis, estimating costs and benefits of mitigation measures throughout the Brazilian economy. They have also benefited from extensive consultations among government, civil society, academia, and the private sector. They lack, however, the institutional mechanisms needed to translate them into policy.

The most successful example of a long-term planning tool with concrete impact on the country´s emission profile, however, comes from the energy sector. The current edition of the National Energy Plan, published in 2006, has a 2030 time horizon.4 Its second iteration, yet to be published, will extend to 2050. For the purposes of this article, the contents of the plan are less important than its design,5 which sheds some light on the kind of process and structure that could be useful for long-term low GHG emission development strategies.

The preparation of the National Energy Plan starts with broad, global scenarios and macroeconomic premises, which are used to model national economic activity on the sectorial level and estimate the corresponding energy demand. These models seek not to “predict the future” but rather to identify the conditions necessary to reach certain development standards, while assuring the energy security needed to reach them. Given an estimate of energy demand by source, the model goes through “normative adjustments,” such as restrictions imposed by supply, costs, and existing regulation, but it also considers what levels of GHG emission are desired. The output is a comprehensive picture of the priorities for the energy mix in the long term.

This, in turn, informs and guides the preparation of shorter-term planning tools and investment decisions in the energy sector, which rely heavily on policy signals by the government.6 In other words, the National Energy Plan has a direct impact on regulatory measures by the government and on investment decisions by both the public and private sectors, because shorter-term planning tools rely on it as an input. This is an element still missing from most mitigation modeling exercises—the capability to be translated from scenarios to concrete measures, policies, and investment decisions.

Countries could use a similar approach to design their long-term low GHG emission development strategies, in a manner that also interacts with other elements of the international climate regime. The assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regularly provide broad global scenarios and premises consistent with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. These can be used, on different scales, to identify possible emission levels, offering a rough picture of the conditions necessary to achieve the temperature goals. These conditions serve as inputs to mitigation modeling exercises, which can be further improved using the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14 of the Paris Agreement—in other words, the “normative adjustments” necessary to align the model with limitations given by other factors. The comprehensive scope of the global stocktake would also allow for consideration of other relevant elements, in particular related to finance and means of implementation. Long-term strategies developed this way would not necessarily provide long-term mitigation targets per se, but, more important, they would inform the preparation of other, near- and midterm instruments.

In order for such an approach to be successful, however, the scenarios and information provided through the long-term strategies must be effectively incorporated into other realms of government planning, with a view to comprehensively integrating climate change considerations into regulatory and investment decisions. In other words, the effectiveness of long-term strategies will depend to a great extent on the linkages with other areas, on the existence of institutional mechanisms that can translate the information provided through long-term strategies into shorter and/or midterm policies and actions—including, but not limited to, the successive NDCs. 

In sum, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies should not be seen as standalone initiatives. In addition to serving as a tool to assist the preparation of successive NDC strategies, long-term strategies have the potential to bring climate change considerations to other areas. This potential can only be fully realized if the design of long-term strategies is based on a comprehensive, cross-cutting approach, as national plans for sustainable development, that effectively interacts through institutionalized mechanisms and processes with other relevant government policies and planning tools—thus serving as an overarching guide to regulatory and investment decisions, and aligning them with climate change goals.

This is referred by some as the “ambition mechanism.” See Article 4, Paragraph 9, combined with Article 14, Paragraph 3. On the importance of the iterative process in the Paris Agreement, see Christina Voigt and Felipe Ferreira, “‘Dynamic Differentiation’: The Principles of CBDR-RC, Progression and Highest Possible Ambition in the Paris Agreement,” Transnational Environmental Law 5 (2016): 285–303,

See Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia, Inovações e Comunicações (Brasília: MCTIC,2017). Sumário executivo: modelagens setoriais e opções transversais para mitigação de emissões de gases de efeito estufa. Organizadores Régis Rathmann e Ricardo Vieira Araujo. Available at, accessed in February 7, 2018.

See Centro Clima, “IES Brasil—Implicações económicas e sociais: Cenários de mitigação de GEE 2030,”, accessed February 7, 2018.

Ministério de Minas e Energia (Brazil) with Empresa de Pesquisa Energética, Plano nacional de energia 2030 (Brasília: MME and EPE, 2007), available at

For further information, see Empresa de Pesquisa Energética, “Plano nacional de energia,”, accessed February 7, 2018.

Tools such as the Decennial Energy Plans, which indicate perspectives for the expansion of the energy sector on a 10-year basis. See Empresa de Pesquisa Energética, “Plano decenal de expansão de energia,”, accessed February 7, 2018.