Editor’s Note: The findings explored in this article are based on analysis of the first 29 long-term strategies submitted to the United Nations. As such, the text in the article does not include analysis of or examples from strategies submitted after June 30th, 2021. All accompanying graphics are updated regularly, and therefore include more long-term strategies than what is reflected in the text.
As part of the international Paris Agreement on climate change, all countries agreed that they should develop long-term climate strategies. These strategies set out a mid-century vision to cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve climate resilience, while simultaneously achieving national development objectives and paving the way for long-term climate action.
All countries were expected to prepare their strategies by 2020. However, as of September 17, 2021, only 33 countries have formally communicated their long-term strategy to the United Nations.
New WRI analysis sheds light on the first 29 long-term strategies that were submitted by the end of June 2021, identifying common trends and the major transformations that countries envisage across all sectors of their economies. The long-term strategies submitted so far generally demonstrate a significant commitment to reaching the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement. However, with the invitation still open, many more nations need to submit their strategies, as well as regularly review and revise them over time.
Here are 10 big findings from these early submissions:
1. Countries that submitted long-term strategies are geographically and economically diverse.
Some of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters have already submitted a long-term strategy, including the United States, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Several European Union (EU) countries were incentivized to prepare strategies as part of the EU’s long-term climate and energy planning processes. However, strategies from some large greenhouse gas emitters, such as China and India, are notably missing.
Although 21 of the first 29 long-term strategies are from high-income or upper-middle-income countries, several major emerging economies like South Africa met the original deadline to submit long-term strategies. Many highly vulnerable nations and small island states, such as Benin, Fiji and the Marshall Islands, also met this deadline.
2. Countries are increasingly setting net-zero emissions targets.
National long-term strategies increasingly contain targets to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, regardless of a country’s emissions footprint or stage of economic development. This trend is both important and encouraging, as the latest climate science shows that the world will need to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) and prevent the worst effects of climate change.
Of the first 29 strategies submitted, 17 strategies included goals for reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, with 12 of these strategies submitted since 2020. Given the growing momentum for net-zero targets, the number of net-zero strategies will likely continue to quickly grow.
3. Countries are embracing sustainable growth.
In line with the spirit of the Paris Agreement, long-term strategies are often framed within a development context. Countries are highlighting the links between climate action, sustainable development, reduced poverty and inequality. For example, Fiji communicated its strategy as an opportunity to plan for “improved livelihoods and quality of life for the poor, decent jobs, enhanced human and social capital, and increased equality.”
4. All long-term strategies envision transformations across all sectors of the economy.
In the energy sector — which spans electric power generation, transportation, buildings and industry — countries are planning to increase renewable energy capacity, significantly improve energy efficiency, phase out internal combustion engines and make other major sectoral transitions. In the land sector — which covers emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land use — countries outline major plans within their long-term strategies to increase forest cover, restore carbon-rich farmland and reduce food loss and waste, among other changes.
Nation-specific examples include:
Denmark’s commitment to restore 15,000 hectares of carbon-rich farmland by 2030.
Fiji’s commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy-based electricity by 2030.
Japan’s commitment to deploy carbon removal technologies that aid mitigation in hard-to-abate sectors by mid-century.
Singapore’s commitment to phase out all internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040.
5. Countries are acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead, pointing to the need for additional support and innovation.
Countries are becoming frank in their strategies about the challenges — including technical, societal and financial challenges — associated with the transition toward low-emission, climate-resilient development. Some countries are also explicitly acknowledging how these challenges are creating gaps within their long-term plans. For instance, countries such as Austria, the Marshall Islands and Slovakia acknowledge that there are gaps between their most ambitious modelled scenarios and their mid-century emissions target. Such countries hope that new policies, additional finance, innovations in green technologies and emerging removal techniques, among others, will later help close these gaps.
6. Most long-term strategies include near-term targets and action plans.
Of the first 29 strategies, 27 detail near-term action plans, providing the necessary stepping-stones to achieve the mid-century vision. A smaller set of strategies include concrete near-term targets. There are also early indications that long-term strategies are increasingly informing countries’ revised nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which are the 2030 emissions-reduction targets submitted under the Paris Agreement. Recent NDC submissions from Costa Rica, the European Union, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland and the United Kingdom explicitly refer to their countries’ long-term strategies and the midcentury targets they contain. This alignment between long-term vision and near-term action is critical to avoid near-term investments that are incompatible with a low-emissions and climate-resilient future.
7. Most countries emphasize the importance of a just and equitable transition.
Of the first 29 strategies, 25 mention the importance of a just transition, recognizing that future transformations will disproportionately affect those whose livelihoods are tied to a high-carbon economy. Norway’s strategy, for example, highlights the nation’s endorsement of the Guidelines for a Just Transition adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Similarly, South Africa’s strategy presents a detailed three-phased approach to implementing a just transition. And several countries’ strategies include plans to foster green job creation, retrain workers and create new vocational and school curricula.
8. Countries are crafting strategies with staying power.
An unchanged planning document cannot remain relevant over multiple decades. As such, all countries commit to regularly monitor, evaluate, review and revise their strategies to keep up with the latest science and market developments, often in line with the five-year cycles of the Paris Agreement.
Many long-term strategies or their mid-century targets are also bolstered by formal laws, helping to ensure that long-term objectives have some degree of immunity from political cycles. Some countries, including Denmark, France, Mexico and the United Kingdom, have formal laws that set binding national goals to meet the latest long-term emissions reduction targets. Other countries may bolster the legal status of their strategies by passing laws that require governments to pursue policies based on their long-term national climate goals.
9. Countries see value in consulting diverse stakeholders.
The transition toward a low-emissions, climate-resilient future cannot happen without engaging with all groups in society, including marginalized communities, who are typically the most affected by climate impacts. All long-term strategies describe how stakeholders — including women, youth and other marginalized groups — have been and will be consulted in the development and implementation of the strategies.
For example, Japan and Latvia recognize the importance of participation from younger generations, who will experience the brunt of future climate impacts. Both nations consulted and facilitated dialogue with youth movements throughout the development and early implementation of their strategies. Similarly, the Marshall Islands emphasizes its engagement with women throughout its long-term strategy development process and Canada prioritizes collaboration with Indigenous peoples and territories in its strategy.
10. There’s no set structure for long-term strategies, and that’s good.
The Paris Agreement did not prescribe a structure for long-term strategies. With no “one-size-fits-all” approach, the long-term strategies submitted to date vary in scope, shape and size, allowing governments to truly tailor their strategies to national circumstances. The strategies from high-income countries typically present detailed modelled pathways for reaching long-term goals, while nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts show detailed plans for adaptation. Nonetheless, the common trends emerging among long-term strategies reflect how countries learn from one another.
Thirty-three Long-term Strategies Down, Many More To Go
Long-term strategies can play an important role in achieving the long-term goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. These strategies begin to reveal the scale of transformation needed to bring national climate action in line with global goals. Many countries, however, still require support to develop and implement their long-term strategies.
Looking toward COP26 and beyond, the international community — including civil society organizations and the donor community — will need to continue providing financial and technical assistance programs for long-term strategies, as well as lesson-sharing and best practices. International cooperation will become increasingly important as more countries transition toward net-zero emissions and pursue their long-term development objectives.