A group of academics, researchers, and policy leaders recently released a blueprint for an International Climate Agenda for the incoming Biden administration. The report lays out recommendations of how the next U.S. Administration can embed climate action as a central pillar into its foreign policy doctrine. While this report is intended for the Biden White House, it may also shed some light on how the broader international community could more effectively address climate change.
Within its first year, the report recommends that the U.S. Government lay out ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) for 2030 as required by the Paris Agreement. In addition, the authors of the report call for the Biden team to make a long-term commitment on climate by setting a backstop goal of net-zero economy-wide emissions by 2050. The authors argue that setting a long-term goal sends a long-term market signal to the private sector “that will help shape markets, influence investment patterns, [and] spur market innovation.” Indeed, the architects of the Paris Agreement understood the importance of these long-term signals and called on all signatories to “strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies.” The COP also declared countries should begin submitting these plans by 2020.
Seventeen countries and the European Union have submitted their long-term emissions strategies to the UNFCCC. These include the U.S. Mid-Century strategy, which targets 80% reductions by 2050. This goal is likely to be ratcheted up by the Biden Administration to 100% reductions by 2050. Several other countries have come out with their own long-term goals for net-zero emissions by 2050 including Japan, South Korea, and the European Union. China has also announced its new target to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060.
These long-term emissions targets serve as crucial long-term signals to every sector of the economy that decarbonization and policies intended to push emissions down are here to stay. An OECD report on long-term targets notes that these policy levers “promote fiscal, legal and regulatory certainty.” But how can these long-term targets be even more effective and mobilize every economic sector?
The International Climate Agenda report recommends that climate goals be time-bound, and both economy-wide and sector specific. Sector-specific targets (for instance in power generation, transportation, and buildings) enable governments to send even more effective and tailored market signals, as well as enhance the understanding of these goals by public, private, civil society, and other key players. The report highlights that targets that include specific milestones, such as a precise number of electric vehicles on the road or solar panels on roofs, can increase awareness of the required scale of ambition and rally the public behind these efforts.
As countries announce a flurry of long-term climate commitments, it’s important for the international community to leverage these targets in a way that sends effective long-term signals to the private sector. Leveraging these targets mean coordinating countries’ goals and integrating sector specific milestones across borders. The international community should utilize harmonized targets to push climate laggards towards greater ambition through international trade and other bilateral and multi-lateral negotiations.