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Manish Bapna is Executive Vice President and Managing Director at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and Stephen Gold is the Global Lead, Climate Change, at UN Development Programme (UNDP)
– As climate negotiators, experts and activists are gathering in Katowice, Poland, for the international climate talks, much of the focus will be on immediate issues. Laying down the ground rules of the 2015 Paris Agreement and wrapping up the first global review of countries’ progress to date are high on the agenda.
But increasingly countries are also looking to set long-term climate goals to achieve the deep emissions reductions needed by mid-century to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Last week, the European Commission unveiled an ambitious plan to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050. The European Commission set a target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions, while putting forward a detailed vision to achieve a prosperous, modern and competitive economy.
Given the EU’s leading role in the global economy and the fact that it’s the world’s third-largest emitter—this represents one of the most important long-term climate strategies released thus far.
The 28-nation European Union bloc joins Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom and United States among G20 governments which have unveiled long-term low-emission development strategies.
In addition, the Marshall Islands, Ukraine and Czech Republic recently committed to long-term decarbonization plans. Despite this progress, most countries have yet to develop long-term strategies, which are a critical step that should be taken by 2020 to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.
The case for shifting to a low-carbon economy is strong and growing stronger. Smart expenditures in low-carbon infrastructure, energy, urban development and land could generate economic gains in the range of $26 trillion through 2030, compared with business-as-usual, according to The New Climate Economy. And this is a conservative estimate.
The world is projected to invest $90 trillion in infrastructure between 2010 and 2030, so governments use-it-or-lose-it moment to capitalize on these low-carbon opportunities.
Why do long-term strategies matter?
First, long-term strategies can guide policymakers toward smarter short-term decisions—such as around energy subsidies, infrastructure spending and urban planning– and avoid locking-in investments in infrastructure and technologies that could become stranded assets.
Consider an example where a government invests in natural gas infrastructure as a bridge solution to reduce carbon emissions, only to find the plummeting costs of solar panels and battery storage make renewable energy a more cost-effective investment.
Second, long-term strategies provide a platform for governments to engage citizens on what a long term, low-emission and high-growth trajectory could look like and build public support to realize these goals.
Third, long-term strategies can help countries to set ambitious greenhouse gas mitigation targets that reflect the latest science. Just as every tenth of a degree of warming matters to human health, incremental warming will also have a tremendous impact on the planet’s health– leading to more severe wildfires, heat waves, crop failure and sea level rise, according to the recent special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.
The new Emissions Gap report, from the UN Environment Programme, assesses the current national mitigation efforts of the G20 countries, and finds they are far off-track from the temperature goals set out under the Paris Agreement. Clearly much more ambition is needed.
Responsible for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the G20 countries have a special duty to show the world that the goals of the Paris Agreement can be achieved.
At this year’s G20 Summit led by Argentina, long term strategies were noted in the final communique. These should be taken forward by Japan, which will take on the leadership of the G20 next year.
The U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Change Summit in September will be another key moment when countries can signal their commitment to the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.
The scientific case and the economic benefits of action are clear, yet the world is still looking for far more leaders to step forward on climate change. All countries, especially the largest emitters, should follow the EU’s example by establishing ambitious mid-century goals and a clear path to achieve them.