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Long-term strategies in a changing climate

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Introduction. The 2015 Paris Agreement agreed the goal of limiting temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit to 1.5°C’. In line with this goal, the Agreement also called on all Parties to ‘formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS)’. These long-term strategies typically extend out to the year 2050.

As of early 2019, eleven Parties had communicated their LT-LEDS to the UNFCCC. However, the Paris Agreement also agreed a global goal for adaptation and this raises the question of how to integrate adaptation goals into LT-LEDS, i.e. so that they are climate resilient. Alongside this, a recent UNFCCC paper on long-term adaptation planning has set out the role for national adaptation plans as the main vehicle for adaptation planning in the decades to come, while maintaining synergy with Paris goals. This raises a similar question, i.e. how to ensure that long-term adaptation plans align with emission reduction. Finally, as mitigation and adaptation are both moving to a long-term perspective, an emerging question is whether to move to combined, synergistic climate resilient and low carbon long-term strategies.

Against this background, the IKI Support Project for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement (SPA), funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and implemented by the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, has commissioned this research review to investigate and stimulate discussion on the technical and political economy issues with long-term climate resilient and low emission development strategies. This research report summarizes the findings and sets out some initial recommendations and future priorities.

Mitigation and Adaptation. Both mitigation and adaptation reduce the risks of climate change. Mitigation lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (or captures carbon) to reduce change at the global scale, while adaptation includes a range of measures at different scales to react to or prepare for impacts. This means that in theory, there could be a global optimal mix of the two. This mix would depend on their relative costs and benefits, but also the level of residual damage (the costs after mitigation and/or adaptation). In practice, however, mitigation and adaptation are complements, not substitutes. This is because the benefits of mitigation mostly arise later in time (after 2050) - so only adaptation can reduce climate impacts in the next few decades. At the same time, climate change will lead to long-term major impacts, including the risks of catastrophic global discontinuities (tipping points) – and only mitigation can reduce these risks because they are beyond the limits of adaptation.

There are also different imperatives for action by country grouping. The primary narrative for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is likely to be integrating cost-effective mitigation in long-term adaptation plans, as these countries will experience the largest relative impacts of climate change before 2050. In contrast, developed countries must reduce emissions if the Paris goal is to be achieved, and these countries also have better capacity and finance to adapt. This suggests that the primary narrative for these countries will be to develop LT-LEDS and mainstream adaptation into these strategies to build climate resilience (i.e. to climate proof them).