Expert Perspectives

Seven Key Elements for a Successful Long-term Climate Strategy (LTCS)

The Paris Agreement calls for Parties to communicate midcentury, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020.1 In Paris, many Parties argued that such long-term climate strategies (LTCSs) will encourage countries to set a long-term vision and the direction of travel to promote climate change action and sustainable development.

An LTCS can stay relevant irrespective of changes in a country’s government, providing certainty to all stakeholders who need to respond to government guidance and think in terms longer than election cycles. A well-designed LTCS should be durable yet nimble, standing the test of time while being able to accommodate changing circumstances.

However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for LTCS. The most appropriate approach for each country is shaped by its particular context. The sections below examine seven key elements that a country may follow to develop a successful LTCS. 

  1. Long-term vision and actionable policy options

    For any successful LTCS, it is important to have a long-term vision and elaborate a pathway to visualize how social and economic development needs will be addressed through actions on climate change, recognizing the close relationship between climate change–related actions and their impact on achieving sustainable development. Without a clearly elaborated vision on different steps of LTCS development, a government will find it difficult to explain why it follows certain procedures and approaches.

    In the process of developing an LTCS, a good political economy analysis of who wins and who loses will be useful for all parties involved. Such an approach can encourage collective problem solving, allowing mutual conversation among all stakeholders—such as cities, businesses, and civil society—leading to greater ownership of the proposed strategy and a common understanding of required technology solutions, business models, and behavioral changes.

    The LTCS should also identify actionable policy options that lead to resource and responsibility allocation among various stakeholders. Such an approach can lead to necessary institutional, economic, technological, and social changes and to a clearer understanding of the practical policy steps, including related decision-making processes, consultative procedures, as well as institutional and individual responsibilities.

  2. Political leadership

    To ensure that the LTCS is more than a mere aspirational expression of where the country would like to be in the long term, senior political figures should be involved in development of the LTCS. This means leaders at the highest level, such as the president, prime minister, and high-profile government ministers such as those responsible for finance and planning. Such high-level political engagement will ensure that addressing climate change strategically is a high priority for the country and that the leadership acts on it. It will demonstrate that the political leaders are aware of opportunities that the LTCS creates—such as improved economic growth, energy access, air quality, and access to emerging technologies—as well as the risks entailed. Engagement of political leaders will also force the decision makers to ensure greater upward accountability through clear actions that go beyond qualitative aspirations.

  3. Responsibility allocation

    A successful LTCS should elaborate how responsibilities are divided among different stakeholders. It should elaborate which actions will be taken by the government and all other actors involved in a coordinated and holistic manner at all levels. For example, the LTCS may have to elaborate how the responsibilities in achieving its national level energy target would be operationalized at national, subnational, and local levels and how the necessary partnerships between public, private, and civil society will be created or strengthened while ensuring whole government ownership of the LTCS.2

  4. The oversight role

    There must be an overseeing institutional authority to ensure that the LTCS is developed and implemented in a coordinated manner.

    Any institution overseeing the LTCS process must have the capability and capacity to achieve its long-term vision. Also, it should be able to identify the major national and sectoral planning processes in the government and ensure that both mitigation of and adaptation to climate change are mainstreamed into those specific plans. 

    There is an ongoing debate as to whether an existing institution or a completely new one should be tasked with this job. The answer lies in each country context and understanding the key capacities, relationships, and power that the institution should have in overseeing the LTCS.

    However, many argue that the traditional approach of placing sole responsibility for addressing climate change in the hands of the Ministry of Environment should be changed and that other line ministries such as Finance and Planning should have a greater role due to their involvement in large-scale investments in a country. If the oversight role is given to such a ministry, there can be greater political buy-in and more effective allocation of financial resources.

    If a new body is created to assume oversight, it must also have a strong political buy-in and the ability to manage resources. Systems must also be put in place to ensure adherence to transparency, accountability, and other good governance throughout the LTCS process.

  5. The technical leadership

    A successful LTCS must also recognize who leads its technical work and operationalization. It is crucial that those providing technical guidance have the necessary knowledge and expertise.

    While some countries give this role to the Ministry of Environment, others create a special, independent high-profile technical body. For example, in the process of developing its long-term Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy (CRGES), the Government of Ethiopia established the Ethiopian Panel on Climate Change (EPCC), a mirror image of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), hosted by the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences3 with the aim of creating a national knowledge-sharing platform for climate research.  It also acts as the technical platform, consists of technical working groups, subtechnical working groups, and special task forces and provides regular space for dialogue on climate change for the CRGES. An inclusive approach, including government, academia, public, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector was applied in selecting contributing scientists, and each technical or subtechnical working group is hosted by a technical support unit (TSU). The two working groups of the EPCC cover Physical Science Basis and Adaptation and Mitigation, with the latter consisting of subtechnical working groups: Agriculture and Food Security; Water and Energy; Biodiversity and Ecosystem; Health and Settlement; and Industry, Transport and Infrastructure. The gender task force members are also part of the process as authors. The EPCC is considered an important platform for coordinating climate-related research and contributing to science-led policy decisions.

    The United Kingdom created the Committee on Climate Change as an independent expert body to advise Parliament and the government on climate change policy as a key part of its long-term legal framework set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.4 The committee is comprised of a board and an analytical secretariat. The committee has a distinguished membership of leading experts from the fields of climate change, science, and economics and is supported by a secretariat of around 20 economists, operational researchers, scientists, and other analysts. It is the first body of its kind in the world and its members bring together expertise from the fields of climate science and policy, economics, technology, behavior, and business. It draws on existing information and undertakes its own analysis to provide expert advice to ministers and to Parliament. This body is regarded as a successful and useful body for its purpose, convening expertise, setting long-, medium-, and short-term goals, monitoring progress, and informing Parliament, which in return is legally required to seek and respond to the committee’s advice.

    Individuals or the body leading the technical process must ensure that a systematic approach ensures sufficient opportunities to use the best available people and involve them in the LTCS process. For example, the research and higher education sector, media, and the private sector can play key roles in providing technical inputs to the process. The collective investment decisions of such stakeholder groups can make or break the achievement of the LTCS.

    Many argue that people’s willingness to carry out government policies that address climate change is among the main reasons for the success of Ethiopia’s CRGE.  Rural communities have been engaged in natural resource management practices and in the rehabilitation of degraded land, resulting in improved productivity and easier access to water. This public engagement creates strong national ownership of the CRGE.

  6. The whole government approach

    All the relevant ministries within a government need to be aware of and involved in the LTCS process in order to ensure coherence between various government policies. Also, given the cross-cutting nature of the climate change issue, it is important that the LTCS be integrated into the planning processes of all ministries and departments.  Such an approach will minimize the risk of various policies’ competing or overriding each other without a coordinated and harmonized approach to policymaking.

    Also, in order to ensure that long-term climate strategies are developed in accordance with rule of law, countries may have to introduce or amend new legislation and policies. For this purpose, it is important that the LTCS process get inputs from a country’s legislature and judiciary.  This should be done with the purpose of extending the “whole government approach,” which goes beyond the planning apparatus within ministries.

  7. The whole society approach

    A government is expected to be accountable to its people and answerable for the consequences of decisions it makes. Therefore, it is important that governments make efforts to be inclusive and transparent in their efforts to address climate change.

    Application of good governance principles such as inclusiveness and transparency takes the LTCS process beyond a “whole government” to a “whole society” approach.  The principles ensure that the views and contributions of members of diverse social, economic, and cultural groups are heard and considered in important decision-making processes of the LTCS, which in turn will contribute to its benefits being equitably enjoyed by all. Inclusiveness can be ensured through nondiscriminatory participation, public awareness, open decision making, and accountability.

    Some of the activities that can be taken to ensure inclusiveness and transparency include inclusive consultations, particularly with those who are affected by or interested in the climate issue and the LTCS. They should be provided with all necessary information, such as types of measures being considered, impacts on jobs, health, quality of life, housing, and so on.  Government should give people opportunities to express their opinion, make recommendations, and be part of decision making.

    Transparency enables people to follow and understand the decision-making process and the decisions themselves. This means that people will be able to clearly see how and why a decision was made—what information, advice, and consultation the relevant departments considered, and which policy and legislative arrangements enabled those decisions. When these principles are applied effectively, a community’s well-being will result from all its members feeling their interests have been considered by the government in relevant decision making.

    The whole society approach also requires engaging future generations in the LTCS process. For any long- term plan, the planners are the adults of this generation, but the implementers will be the children of this generation, who will be the adults of the next and must all be climate aware and climate resilient in order to deliver the long-term strategy. The LTCS can establish a parallel educational program that enables future citizens to become climate champions.


1 According to Article 4.19, all Parties should strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies, mindful of Article 2 and taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

2 For an LTCS outline of how Germany intends to accomplish this, see “Climate Action Plan 2050,” 82–83, https://unfccc.int/files/focus/application/pdf/161114_climate_action_plan_2050.pdf.

3 See website of Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, https://eas-et.org/.

4 The act set a long-term target of at least 80 percent reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to a 1990 baseline. The act also requires that carbon budgets (five-year caps on emissions) be set on a path toward the long-term target.

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