There is a provision in the agreement for countries to prepare long-term emission reduction strategies, also known as mid-century strategies, or “2050 plans”. These plans can help countries, cities, and investors deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the following 3 reasons.
1. They are an opportunity to maximize the benefits by aligning climate change policies with long-term economic planning
With ambitious plans, governments and cities can signal to investors that they are seriously committed to implementing the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
The plans can help countries align their short-term decisions with investment pathways that promote low-carbon development and reduce the potential for asset stranding. The transition to zero carbon power is needed and occurring faster than many realize. Renewable power already accounts for most new power plants. Some argue that solar power could supply 23% of global power generation in 2040, despite storage costs, virtually phasing out coal and natural gas.
While interest in the 2050 plans is growing among countries, to date only the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Benin and Germany have submitted their strategies to the UNFCCC. Mexico, for example, aims to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2050.
Ideally, the 2050 plans will be completed well before 2020. This will coincide with the UN facilitative dialogue in 2018, where countries will explore ways to increase the ambition of their NDCs before the end of the decade.
2. Countries preparing 2050 plans can join forces and draw on existing experiences of long-term planning
Some countries have important experiences in relation to long-term planning. Mexico’s 2012 General Law on Climate Change includes an emissions reduction target for 2050, while Chile intends to reach 70% of its electricity from renewables by midcentury. Europe has a roadmap for reducing emissions by 80% by 2050. These countries and others could share their experiences regionally and internationally.
Civil society and think tanks have also been working to develop long-term plans. For instance, the Deep Decarbonization Pathways project shows that steep cuts are possible, and their reports include analyses on Brazil and Mexico.
In addition, the “2050 pathways platform” launched last year aims to support the creation of 2050 plans through finance and capacity building. There are 22 participating countries, including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile and Mexico.
3. They can facilitate national debates on the choices that countries can make to build zero-carbon and more inclusive societies
Reaching zero carbon will require changing how infrastructure is designed, planned and built, involving politicians, engineers, regulators, businesses, investors and civil society. Investors, for example, could prioritize electric public transport over highways in cities and ensure new housing developments are not built on top of mangrove forests, which provide vital ecosystem services.
In turn, civil society engagement can increase the likelihood of success of the 2050 plans. The costs of implementation will be lower when there is buy-in from key societal actors from the start. The plans can open a space for democratic consultation and can help secure a just transition for workers operating in the energy, agriculture and tourism sectors, who could be adversely affected by the low-carbon transition and worsening climate impacts.
Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and SDGs is a massive challenge, yet the potential benefits of building zero-carbon and climate-resilient economies are fundamental for inclusive and sustainable growth. The 2050 plans can make a vital contribution.
Guy Edwards provides external consulting services for the Inter-American Development Bank. He is also a research fellow at Brown University where he co-directs the Climate and Development Lab. He has a Master’s Degree in Latin American Area Studies from the University of London.