Commentary

The politics of climate roadmaps: lessons for the EU’s new long-term climate strategy

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Achieving deep decarbonisation consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming well below 2c and aiming for 1.5c requires change in every sector of the economy.

Experience shows that be effective in shaping good decisions the design of roadmap governance must be done with an eye to the political dynamics necessary to drive real change, not just the technical requirements of policymaking or procedures for stakeholder engagement.

If embedded in the right way, long-term roadmaps can open-up difficult issues before they become toxic, allowing solutions to be developed and supported more widely. Constructing a broader conversation which brings in new voices also reduces the power of incumbent interests to seek rents, delay progress or move money into sub-optimal investments.

More independent approaches involving the legislature or commissions can give more confidence to investors in a country’s decarbonisation trajectory. Clarity on how regulators and other authorities must use roadmaps can ensure consistency and least cost across policy areas. This lowers costs and helps avoid wasteful investment in stranded assets.

For governments, running a technical roadmap process with limited consultation can appear attractive as it maximises direct control and allows difficult questions to be avoided. However, this is an illusion of control if the government is serious about shifting to a low carbon path. Decarbonisation requires active alignment between all levels of the public sector, investors, companies and consumers; this is impossible if they are excluded from the process of developing and debating long-term plans.

For the EU and national governments, the new long-term strategies offer a useful tool for enabling a managed transition. As much attention is needed on how these strategies are used as the assumptions and analytics that go into them.

As a result, the new long-term climate strategies currently under development in the EU and member states should be seen as the beginning of a process of political and institutional change, rather than as stand-alone pieces of technical analysis.

Embedding long-term roadmaps inside broader and more independent governance processes will make the process more messy, but their results more impactful, as they will help shape and advance the politics of transition.

E3G - The politics of climate roadmaps: lessons for the EU’s new long-term climate strategy [PDF 4.2MB]