How can cities help national governments create a long-term, low carbon vision?

By Adrian Fenton, Climate Governance Manager at C40

The Paris Agreement invites parties to develop and submit ‘long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’ by the end of 2020 – but what can cities contribute to this process and what lessons can we learn from city climate action planning? This brief was co-authored with the 2050 Pathways Platform to understand how cities can contribute to the deliverables mandated to national governments by the Paris Agreement. 

Understanding long-term strategies

Long-term strategies set out a country’s long-term vision to 2050, and then chart a pathway to realize this vision. By setting a “direction of travel” through long-term strategies, countries can craft short-term policies and make near-term investments to achieve these long-term targets. Decarbonization is the ultimate goal of these long-term strategies, which are vital to achieving the Paris Agreement goals. They are the national government equivalent of C40’s climate action plans.

Momentum on long-term strategies is growing globally as the Paris Agreement’s 2020 deadline approaches. Thirteen countries have officially submitted long-term strategies, dozens are in the process of development, and some are already working on updating their existing strategies with more ambitious targets. 

What role can cities play in the development of long-term strategies?

Cities are incredibly important to formulating long-term strategies as they concentrate most economic activity, infrastructure, people and emissions from energy. In fact, by 2050 the world will be more urban than ever with more than 70% of the world population living in cities – therefore getting the urban element right is crucial to develop ambitious long-term strategies and implement them successfully. 

For example, urban infrastructure has a lifespan of 30 or more years, so the infrastructure built in cities today will stand to see 2050 and should be developed with a long-term, net-zero emission goal in mind. Infrastructure decisions taken without this consideration can lock in fossil fuels and carbon emissions for decades in sectors including power generation, transport, buildings and industry. Putting cities at the heart of a robust long-term strategy can help avoid this lock in and is essential to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Cities and national governments should see that incorporating an urban focus into national long-term strategies is an opportunity to facilitate the implementation of city climate action and achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Cities specifically should also seek to input on the development of national long-term goals to ensure they are aligned with their own targets, and help to remove barriers that may prevent them to scale up action. For this reason, C40 is working with the 2050 Pathways Platform to support city and national government collaboration on long-term strategies. 

What is the 2050 Pathways Platform?

The 2050 Pathways Platform is a multi-stakeholder initiative that was launched at COP22 in 2016 by High-Level Climate Champions Laurence Tubiana and Hakima El Haite, with the objective of supporting national governments in developing long-term, low-emission, and climate-resilient development strategies. 

The Platform is designed as a space for collective problem-solving, bringing together countries, as well as cities, states, and businesses engaged in long-term low-emissions planning of their own, and in support of national strategies.

The 2050 Pathways Platform works primarily with national governments to deliver robust, and ambitious long-term decarbonization strategies. However, the Platform also works closely with C40’s Deadline 2020 initiative to bring together cities’ and countries’ long-term planning efforts. C40 has been a key partner of the Platform since its inception, mobilising the first 15 cities committed to decarbonizing by 2050 and contributing to the Platform. C40 has been able to support the formulation of national long-term strategies in Nigeria, South Africa, and Indonesia.

To learn more, visit the 2050 Pathways Platform website, Twitter account, and monthly newsletter.