Long-term strategies under the Paris Agreement – key principles for good governance

The Paris Agreement calls for Parties to communicate their long-term, low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020. Achala Abeysinghe looks at how to ensure good governance for these strategies. 

Achala C Abeysinghe's picture
Achala C Abeysinghe is principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group
13 July 2018
UN climate change conference (COP24)
A series of pages related to IIED's activities at the 2018 UNFCCC climate change summit in Katowice
Men stand on a river bank and in the water to clear detritus

Clearing flood damage in Fiji. Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is leading the development of a long-term climate vision for his country (Photo: Ben Beiske, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Countries are starting to prepare and submit their long-term climate and development strategies (LTSs) under the Paris Agreement. The agreement asks countries to articulate their climate change and development aspirations for the middle of the century. The expectation is that these will provide direction to their future Nationally Determined Contributions – the five-yearly stepping stones towards their long-term vision.

Last week I participated in a global meeting about the processes for creating LTSs. The two-day meeting provided an opportunity for government practitioners, policymakers and international experts to share ideas, good practices, tools, benefits and challenges related to developing these strategies.

I was co-lead for the session on good governance practices for LTS, and was able to present some points from a perspective I had contributed to a recent book on this topic. Among many key messages that came out of the session, I heard that the LTS can be living documents, adapted over time to changing circumstances and building on shorter-term development strategies and plans. Another resounding message was that 'There is no one-size-fits-all solution' for this process. 

I argued that good governance principles can be applied to any strategy – to make it more acceptable, to give more ownership to the people, to make it more trustworthy, certain and reliable – irrespective of whether the strategy is a living document or a fixed vision.

Good governance for long-term strategies

Governance refers to the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are implemented. Good governance principles in general include strategic vision, transparency, accountability, participation and responsiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, as well as respecting the rule of law. 

Below I highlight how some of the good governance principles can be practically applied to long term visions – though this is not an exhaustive list. 

Clear strategic vision and actionable policy options 

A clear strategic vision combined with actionable policy options can provide a pathway that helps to visualise how social, environmental and economic development needs will be addressed through actions on climate change.

The vision and the policy options can guide related decision-making processes, resource allocation, stakeholder engagement and consultative procedures, as well as institutional and individual responsibilities. This way, both leaders and the public will have a broad and long-term perspective on governance of the strategy, along with a clear idea of what is required for its full implementation.

Highest level of political and technical leadership for stronger accountability

To ensure that the LTS is more than a mere aspirational expression of where the country would like to be in the long term, it is important that senior political figures are involved in LTS development and its implementation. 

In the Marshall Islands, President Hilda Heine has herself led the development of her country’s long-term strategy, and will present it to various partners next week. Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama is also engaged in leading the long-term climate vision for his country. Such leadership gives citizens confidence that their leaders are serious about this process. It demonstrates that political leaders are aware of the risks, costs, benefits and opportunities that the LTS creates – including improved economic growth, energy access, air quality, and access to emerging technologies.

Such engagement encourages political leaders to go beyond qualitative aspirations and creates greater downward accountability to the people of the country.

It is also important to clearly set out who will provide oversight and technical leadership for LTS process. In some countries there is an ongoing debate as to whether these roles should be undertaken by an existing institution or a completely new one.

Obviously there is no one-size fits-all solution, but what is important is that any institution overseeing the LTS process and providing technical leadership must have the capability and capacity to achieve its long-term vision – and be accountable both to the higher- level leadership and the people of the country. 

A 'whole government' approach

All relevant government ministries need to be aware of, and involved in, the LTS process to ensure coherent policy and planning across government. Given the cross-cutting nature of climate change, the LTS needs to be integrated into the planning processes of all ministries and departments. Without a coordinated and harmonised approach to policymaking, there is a risk of various policies competing or overriding each other.

To ensure that long-term climate strategies are developed in accordance with rule of law, countries may have to introduce or amend legislation and policies, and it is important that the LTS process gets input from a country’s legislature. This ensures a 'whole government approach', which extends beyond planning silos within ministries.

Effective stakeholder engagement and consultations through a 'whole society' approach 

Application of good governance principles such as inclusiveness and transparency will take the LTS process beyond a 'whole government' to a 'whole society' approach. 

The principles ensure that the views and contributions of members of diverse social, economic, and cultural groups are heard and considered in important decision-making processes of the LTS. This contributes to its benefits being equitably enjoyed by all.

Inclusiveness can be ensured through nondiscriminatory participation, public awareness, open decision making, and accountability. Ensuring inclusiveness and transparency involves undertaking consultations, particularly with those who are affected by climate issues and the LTS. People being consulted should be provided with full information, such as the types of measures being considered, impacts on jobs, health, quality of life, housing, and so on. 

Beyond mere information sharing, government should also give people opportunities to express their opinions, make recommendations, and be part of decision making through well designed stakeholder engagement processes. 

Ensuring transparency enables people to follow and understand the decision-making process, and the decisions themselves. People should be able to clearly see how and why a decision was made: what information, advice, and consultation were considered, and which policy and legislative arrangements enabled those decisions. 

Applying these principles effectively can enhance a community's wellbeing – with all its members feeling that their interests have been considered by government.

A whole society approach also means engaging future generations. For any long-term plan, the planners are the adults of this generation, but the implementers will be the children. They, in turn, will be the adults of the next – and all must be climate aware in order to deliver the long-term strategy. 

Note: This blog is partly based on my contribution to the book 'Climate action with tomorrow in mind – Expert Perspectives on Long-term Climate and Development Strategies', which can be downloaded from the website of the World Resources Institute. The blog also draws on the discussions at the the 'Global Meeting on Long-term, Low Greenhouse Gas Emissions Development Strategies: Acting Now for a Sustainable Tomorrow,' which took place in Bangkok on 10 and 11 July 2018.

Climate Action with Tomorrow in Mind: Expert Perspectives on Long-term Climate and Development Strategies,  the World Resources Institute, 2018 – Book, 162 pages (ISBN:1-56973-935-8)