Writing Prompt: Setting Emissions Reduction Targets in the Long-term Strategy

For many countries, one common element of long-term strategies to date has been a quantitative, long-term emissions reduction target1 or milestone to guide the design of the strategy and in turn transformation at the sectoral level and various levels of government. The Paris Agreement calls for a mid-century long-term low GHG emissions development strategies and states that such strategies should be mindful of Article 2, which includes the long-term goal of limiting warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees C. Article 2 also has a complementary global long-term goal framed in terms of emissions reductions: “to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” This is a concept akin to net zero GHG emissions, where anthropogenic GHG emissions are reduced as much as possible and enhanced removals of those gases make up the remainder to achieve net zero emissions.2

One critical question is how to translate these global goals to the national level in the context of long-term strategies.

This expert perspective series focuses on how countries could set a mid-century emissions reduction target and/or target to achieve net zero emissions in their long-term strategies.

In writing their perspectives, experts may want to consider the following questions:

  • What do you view as the advantages and disadvantages of including a quantitative mid-century emission reduction target? A target for when to reach net zero emissions?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of calling such a goal post a "target"? What are the implications if these are called "targets" explicitly vs. goals or vision for emissions reductions to be achieved, or some other type of language?
  • Should countries include both mid-century (2050) emissions reduction targets as well as a target date for achieving net zero emissions in their long-term strategy? The Paris Agreement calls for mid-century strategies, but also calls for such strategies to be mindful of Article 2 which references a balance between anthropogenic emissions and removals (I.e. net zero emissions).
  • For the mid-century target, is it preferable for countries to set a single target or a range of emissions reductions that could be achieved? For the timing to achieve net zero emissions, how important is it to set a single date vs. a range of dates?
  • Is it better to set an aspirational target that you may not know how to reach versus a target that is less ambitious that you know how to reach (e.g. through existing technologies) while noting the potential for increasing ambition over time?
  • How should the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement inform the development of goals in the long-term strategy? Should countries define what the Paris temperature goals mean to them in the context of developing their strategies?
  • Is it possible to say whether a long-term target in a national long-term strategy is consistent with the Paris Agreement long-term goals, given that the temperature goals will be determined by global emissions?
  • What are the important assumptions to disclose regarding how the target was established (e.g. equity criteria (assumptions about other countries' actions), technology assumptions, inclusion of negative emissions, etc.)? On the target itself (inclusion of the land sector, inclusion of all sectors and greenhouse gases, etc.)?
  • If a country has already established a long-term target, to what extent should the long-term strategy development be an opportunity to revisit this target and set a new target? Or should targets be set in another political process, and the long-term strategy be limited to exploring the pathways for achieving an existing target?

1 This prompt uses “target” as shorthand for an emissions reduction target, goal, or milestone. Countries may consider such a long-term goal post in different ways.

2 According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report, to have a likely chance of keeping warming to below 2 degrees C, carbon dioxide emissions drop to net zero between 2060 and 2075 and total GHG emissions decline to net zero between 2080 and 2090. For a likely chance of limiting warming to below 1.5 degrees C, carbon dioxide emissions drop to net zero between 2045 and 2050 and total GHG emissions decline to net zero between 2060 and 2080.