Writing Prompt: The Role of Long-term Strategies in Aligning Near- and Mid-Term Plans with the Paris Agreement Goals

The Paris Agreement establishes objectives of limiting warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low-greenhouse gas emissions development, and making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. While the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted in the lead-up to Paris represent progress towards the stated temperature goal, they are not yet sufficient to achieve it – studies estimate that existing NDCs would result in warming of 2.7°C to 3.7°C.1 Projected temperature effects of current policies are even higher.2

While the Paris Agreement provides for Parties to prepare subsequent, more ambitious rounds of NDCs, if Parties proceed on the trajectories implied by their current NDCs in the meantime, a significant share of the remaining global carbon budget would be emitted, translating into a need for extremely steep, unprecedented rates of decarbonization once global emissions eventually peak, and for negative emissions at unproven scale, in order to achieve the Paris temperature goals. These decarbonization requirements may also become progressively more expensive to achieve, because emissions-intensive infrastructure would have been locked in, creating stranded assets that would have to be retired prematurely.

Part of the value of undertaking long-term strategies (LTS) is to avoid such an outcome by promoting alignment between long-term goals and short-term policy and investment decisions. Most NDCs cover a timeframe through approximately 2030, and many domestic policies contemplate a shorter time horizon, creating a risk that near-term decisions – even those that align with NDC objectives – will lock out long-term pathways consistent with the Paris goals. Box 1 illustrates this risk with regard to mitigation goals; by the same token, short-term thinking could also lock in infrastructure that is not consistent with the adaptation and resilience goal. Designing NDCs and domestic policies in view of long-term strategies is critical to mitigate this risk.

Box 1: Implementation of NDCs in the context of long-term transformation (adapted from Sachs et al. 2016)

In this expert perspective series, we ask authors:

What role should long-term strategies play in promoting alignment between near- and mid-term plans and the Paris Agreement goals?

For purposes of this expert perspective:

  • The “Paris Agreement goals” are those listed in Article 2.1: To hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C, to increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development in a manner that does not threaten food production, and to make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
  • Near- and mid-term plans include current and future NDCs as well as national policies through approximately 2030.

In your response, please consider some or all of the following questions:

  • How do you view the relationship between LTS and near- and mid-term plans? What advantages and disadvantages do you see from seeking to align them?
  • Is there a risk that if countries perceive an expectation to align their near- or mid-term plans with LTS that they will water down the ambition of their LTS? Should LTS and near- and mid-term plans give equal weight to implementation barriers, or should LTS be a more normative exercise? What criteria would determine the extent to which an NDC, or another near- or mid-term plan, aligns with the Paris goals? What (if anything) should align – e.g., Paris temperature goals and mitigation targets (in the LTS and/or NDC)? Paris temperature goals and NDC implementation plans to achieve mitigation targets? Something else? What about alignment with adaptation goals?
  • How could the process of creating long-term strategies be structured in order to best promote alignment with near- and mid-term planning?
  • What characteristics should the content of long-term strategies have in order to best promote alignment with near- and mid-term planning?
  • Is it possible for long-term strategies to enhance alignment between existing NDCs and the Paris goals? How? What options do Parties have to align their existing NDCs?
  • What timeline for LTS and NDC preparation and revision would best foster alignment between NDCs and the Paris goals? Is there benefit from aligning the update of NDCs and LTS with the international review cycle?
  • Should LTS include detailed near- and/or mid-term plans (such as targets, milestones, or implementation measures)? Why or why not?

1 Results depend on a range of modeling assumptions, including regarding emissions trajectories following the NDC period. See /blog/2015/11/insider-why-are-indc-studies-reaching-different-temperature-estimates.

2 https://climateactiontracker.org/global.html