A new COP26 decision for long-term strategies: what’s in it for LDCs?

After months of delay, the formal UN climate negotiations are resuming and countries face a packed agenda. Gabrielle Swaby sets out why the least developed countries (LDCs) should make long-term strategies central to the discussion.

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Insight by 
Gabrielle Swaby
Gabrielle Swaby is a researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group
31 May 2021
UN climate change conference (COP26)
A series of pages related to IIED's activities at the 2021 UNFCCC climate change summit in Glasgow
Desertic landscape

Ethiopia is one of the LDCs working towards achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (Photo: UNICEF via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Paris Agreement invited countries, by 2020, to formulate ‘long-term, low greenhouse gas development strategies’ – visionary plans for delivering low carbon, climate resilient development by mid-century.

But the 2020 deadline has passed, and only 29 countries have submitted long-term strategies (LTS).

As such, LTS will likely emerge as a point of discussion during this year’s UN climate negotiations (COP26). Parties may want to revise the outdated invitation to encourage continued development of LTS to enhance ambition. The update is not unwarranted: more than 100 countries are “advancing consultations on a long-term strategy for climate-neutrality” (PDF) and LTS are recognised as an important national tool for catalysing climate action.

At COP26, the language can be updated to consider LTS already submitted and to invite governments who have not to submit the strategies in a timebound manner.

The new language could also reflect the importance of learning from countries’ experience in developing the LTS, including capturing the global momentum on net zero commitments as well as the importance of offering technical and financial support to developing countries.

For the least developed countries (LDCs), whose contributions to global emissions are negligible, the motivations for revising the invitation may not necessarily be driven by the need for decarbonisation nationally. So, what’s in it for them?

Connecting the dots between the LTS and LDC priorities

LDC climate negotiators are actively engaged across all negotiation areas at COP26, but LDCs need urgent and immediate action on a few big-ticket items. From finance to adaption to loss and damage – all link to the developmental needs and goals of LDCs.

Long-term climate finance

  • Status? This is already a contentious issue, particularly since developed countries have not met their commitment to provide US$100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020. As countries embark on defining a new long-term finance goal, the LDC Group will push for discussions to be based on the needs of developing countries.
  • Connection to LTS? Achieving low-carbon and climate-resilient economies by mid-century requires structural economic changes. The LTS can help coordinate the delivery of climate financing and inform future investment flows, especially from bilateral funders and multilateral development banks (PDF).

Moreover, the original invitation to prepare LTS has inspired global efforts to support parties in developing and implementing long-term climate and development plans.

A COP26 decision could promote continued international collaboration – on policy, finance, technology and so on – to support LDCs with developing, updating and implementing their LTS.

Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA)

  • Status? Parties have called for practical steps to conceptualise the global goal on adaptation, and support in understanding how to review progress and implement the goal in-country.
  • Connection to LTS? Even if emissions stopped today, the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere means climate change impacts will worsen in decades to come – ignoring adaptation and resilience will no longer be possible.

For LDCs, this means that enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability – the GGA’s key features – will be just as important as decarbonisation. LTS could be helpful tools to show how countries are delivering on the GGA, consolidate national adaptation efforts and provide clear links between mitigation and adaptation measures.

In so doing, LTS can reinforce links between development, mitigation and adaptation—the embodiment of Article 2 of the Paris Agreement (PDF).

Action and support for loss and damage

  • Status? LDCs are fighting hard to ensure all parties recognise the need for scaled up action and support for loss and damage. This includes understanding where the limits of adaptation exist in different contexts and identifying how technical, capacity building and financial support could be provided.
  • Connection to LTS? LTS need not be only about decarbonisation; by 2050, climate impacts will be more intense – many of the damaging, extreme weather events of recent years will become routine. For LDCs – where climate impacts, risk and vulnerability pose the greatest challenges – a long-term climate response will need to go beyond reducing emissions.

LTS can help identify strategies and responses to support resilience – from geophysical to economic – given the limits of adaptation.

Separate from the COP26 negotiations, the LDC Group’s 2050 Vision (PDF) sets out LDCs’ aspiration to achieve climate-resilient development and deliver net-zero emissions by 2050, which aligns with the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals. LTS can be a tool to help LDCs achieve that vision.

Technicalities can’t stop climate action

As countries begin to bring the Paris Agreement to life, long-term strategies for achieving low carbon and climate-resilient development at the national level are crucial. We can’t let a technicality stop progress – given the huge gap between current emissions and the 1.5°C target.

At COP26, LDCs have the opportunity to use their moral standing to build pressure on major economies − not only to set net zero commitments but also to demonstrate how they intend to deliver these through a long-term strategy.

All countries need to put forward strong commitments and truly bold efforts to reduce emissions, scale up climate support and sustainably recover from the impacts of COVID-19. LTS set out countries’ pathways for decarbonisation, increasing transparency and trust among nations that we can achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal.