In the context of the international Paris Agreement on climate change, a long-term strategy is a formal document a country uses to communicate its plans for long-term low-emission development.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries agreed to limit the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees C and the 2023 IPCC Sixth Assessment Report both strongly underscore the difference that this half-degree can make.

Temperature rise above 1.5 degrees C will result in increased risk of irreversible biodiversity loss and food insecurity, extreme drought, fires, heat, floods, sea level rise and more. To have a likely chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C, the world’s top climate scientists agree that global carbon dioxide emissions must reach ‘net zero’ by 2050, with all other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reaching this benchmark thereafter.

Long-term strategies (also called “long-term low GHG emissions development strategies”) are central to achieving the goal of reaching net-zero emissions, limiting warming and preventing some of the worst impacts of climate change. Countries can use these strategies to set out long-term goals for climate and development and direct the short-term decision-making that is needed to achieve net-zero emissions and climate-resilient economies.

Countries were originally invited to communicate long-term strategies to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change under the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015. In the time since, the call for submissions has been reiterated, with the 2021 Glasgow Pact urging countries to also update existing strategies frequently, use their strategies to outline pathways toward a just transition to net-zero emissions and align their short-term climate plans with their long-term visions.

WRI’s Climate Watch platform tracks and analyzes long-term strategy submissions.

Why Are Long-term Strategies Needed?

Ambitious long-term strategies are vital since current known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are only sufficient to limit warming to 2.4 to 2.6 degrees C  (4.3 to 4.7 degrees F) this century, and only if achieved as designed.

When countries communicate long-term strategies, they express a commitment to achieve ambitious climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal of 1.5 degrees C. These strategies provide a vital link between the shorter-term NDCs (which operate in five-year cycles), establishing a guiding long-term vision to direct near-term policy and planning.

Long-term strategies also offer many benefits, including guiding countries to avoid costly investments in high-emissions technologies, supporting just and equitable transitions, promoting technological innovation, planning for new sustainable infrastructure in light of future climate risks and sending early and predictable signals to investors about envisaged long-term societal changes.

Read more: Climate Action for Today and Tomorrow: The Relationship between NDCs and LTSs

What Are the Key Elements of Long-Term Strategies?

The scope and depth of long-term strategies are determined by countries. Indeed, there is no one-size-fits-all format or structure. However, some common elements that have emerged across the strategies submitted to-date include:

  • A long-term vision.
  • Sustainable development considerations.
  • Mitigation elements (including a long-term quantified outcome for GHG emissions reductions and results of mitigation models and scenarios)
  • Adaptation elements.
  • Sectoral strategies (including policies and actions, milestones to be achieved over time, information on managing the transition to the long-term goals, among others).
  • Implementation approaches.
  • Monitoring plans and revision processes.

When these elements are considered together, countries can evaluate tradeoffs among them and ensure that all are supported in the long-term strategy.

Read More: Insights on the First 29 Long-term Climate Strategies Submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

What Are Important Considerations for Developing a Long-Term Strategy?

The concept of long-term planning for climate change and development raises unique governance challenges. Ensuring buy-in and ownership of key ministries, departments, agencies and non-governmental stakeholders over the final strategy is essential if long-term strategies are to be influential in guiding planning and investment decisions across society to initiate an effective and just transition to a low GHG emission and resilient future. This will require:

Political leadership: Clear high-level mandates and vision can foster greater coordination within and across ministries. Political leadership at the highest level can help drive the strategy, build momentum and ensure the right stakeholders and ministries are involved.

Institutional arrangements: The process of developing, and subsequently implementing, long-term strategies, require the engagement of central ministries, multiple sectoral line ministries, sub-national government, civil society and, in many countries, indigenous self-governing bodies. In many cases, this will require the creation or reconsideration of existing institutional arrangements for long-term planning.

Legal frameworks: Supportive legal frameworks ensure strong coherence across government strategies, build political durability of long-term targets and help to avoid expensive and conflicting policies.

Stakeholder engagement: Stakeholders can help planners and decision-makers by providing information and preferences that can build a shared vision and may become important constituencies in the implementation of the long-term strategy.

It is also critical that countries designing long-term strategies build upon existing plans and policies, where applicable. This will require a consideration of how well established existing long-term planning and targets are (for example, any long-term economic planning processes that might already exist in a country), whether there’s already consideration of climate change mitigation and adaptation and whether the targets are in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Read More: A Brief Guide For Reviewing Countries’ Long-term Strategies


Cover image by Dennis Schroeder / NREL