Planning Development in a Carbon Constrained World

Governments that are seriously committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions as part of their development agendas plan on such reductions. Plans that outline a pathway for low or zero carbon development are needed to efficiently and rapidly de-carbonize economies, and the planning process itself can help build the support necessary to execute the plans. In the context of international efforts to drive down emissions and address development needs, credible and ambitious plans – supplemented with evidence that they are being effectively implemented – build trust and confidence among countries. Conversely, the absence of detailed and openly accessible plans raises serious and legitimate doubts about the degree to which governments in fact are committed to action and will deliver on those commitments.

Low Carbon Development Plans: Country Briefs

All of the above briefs as a single document:  Planning Development in a Carbon Constrained World (Dec 2011) [PDF]

Governments around the world are increasingly recognizing the central importance of low/zero carbon development plans. This not only is evident in formal joint statements and agreements among national governments related to such plans, but also in the small but growing number of countries with plans that are completed or under development.   Meanwhile, with resources ranging from analytical support to financial assistance, an assortment of governmental and non-governmental organizations – including WWF – is supporting development of such plans. 

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Mexican president Felipe Calderon at COP-16 of the UNFCCC, Cancun, Mexico, in late 2010. Source: Neil Palmer (CIAT).

“Our relationship with the environment must come to a turning point, either we change our way of life to stop climate change or climate change will alter the way we live…If we really move forward we have to discard the false dilemma that we must choose between economic growth and fighting Climate Change. It is possible to achieve economic development and, at the same time, reduce emissions and the overexploitation of natural resources. In fact, the only sustainable path to grow is a low carbon path.”

Felipe Calderón Hinojosa
President of Mexico



What the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) refers to as “low-carbon development strategies or plans” (LCDPs) are comprehensive and coordinated strategies intended to ultimately eliminate or reduce to very low levels net-emissions of greenhouse gases (including but not limited to carbon) over a specific period of time, while advancing other sustainable development goals. Though not clearly implied by the terminology, LCDPs are understood to include provisions to reduce vulnerability to climate change and to increase adaptive capacity. 

Some terms being used to describe such plans include:

In practice, the plans are conglomerations of new and existing elements, all combined in a new way to address pre-existing policy objectives and the urgent emerging need to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts. They are integrations of climate change policies with longstanding issues such as economic development. As the OECD says in Low-Emission Development Strategies (LEDs): Technical, Institutional and Policy Lessons, the plans “provide a new opportunity to consider climate change and development in a more integrated, systematic and strategic way.” Similarly,a report by Project Catalyst (an initiative of the ClimateWorks Foundation), Low Carbon Growth Plans - Advancing Good Practice (August 2009), says “these plans share a common focus on integrating national strategies on mitigation and adaptation with economic growth and development.


Outside the UNFCCC, the leaders of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate declared on 9th July 2009 that their countries would:

“…prepare low-carbon growth plans. Developed countries among us will take the lead by promptly undertaking robust aggregate and individual reductions in the midterm consistent with our respective ambitious long-term objectives.... Developing countries among us will promptly undertake actions whose projected effects on emissions represent a meaningful deviation from business as usual in the midterm, in the context of sustainable development, supported by financing, technology, and capacity-building.”

The 17 major economies participating in the MEF are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a multilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Prime Manmohan Singh, and South African President Jacob Zuma during COP-15 in Copenhagen, Denmark, Dec. 18, 2009. Caption: While the U.S. joined the other parties in recognizing that a “low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development,” it does not yet have such a strategy. Source: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Later that year, at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-15) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen, Denmark, the parties agreed in the Copenhagen Accord that a “low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development.”  Meanwhile, national leaders have individually reaffirmed their commitments. For example, the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh has stated that the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, covering the 2012-2017 period, will focus on specific initiatives needed to put India’s development on a path consistent with low carbon growth. Similarly, South Africa President Jacob Zuma said in his State of the Nation Address (11 February 2010):  “As South Africa we have voluntarily committed ourselves to specific emission reduction targets, and will continue working on our long-term climate change mitigation strategy.”

The international basis for progress on low-carbon plans was further solidified at COP-16 in Cancun, Mexico (29 Nov – 10 Dec 2010), where the parties agreed that “a low-carbon development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development.” They stated that “developed countries should develop low-carbon development strategies or plans;” and furthermore, the COP stated that it “[e]ncouragesdeveloping countries to develop low-carbon development strategies or plans.” The parties also agreed to strengthen the requirements under the UNFCCC for governments to report on the actions they are taking pursuant to the treaty. Governments agree that the content of reports should be enhanced and that quadrennial reports be supplemented with biennial communications to the UNFCCC Secretariat. 


Concurrent with these international developments, some countries since 2007 have initiated development of LCDPs. Among these countries are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, The European Union, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and the U.K.   Since there is no widely accepted specific definition of the level of emissions required to qualify as a LCDP, some listings include many more countries. For example the OECD report on Low-Emission Development Strategies (LEDs): Technical, Institutional and Policy Lessons [PDF]  identified 46 countries that have produced plans. No country has published plans that would reduce net emissions down to near-zero, though there are plans and roadmaps that would reduce emissions by 80 percent or more by mid-century.  

 “Each country will face its own specific challenges” in preparing LCDPs,concludes the OECD report. It continues:

“Common challenges are likely to include: advancing agreement across government on priority policies; obtaining and analysing reliable data on mitigation costs and climate change impacts; identifying and addressing barriers to implementation; and limited financial and human resources. Despite these challenges, the process of preparing a LEDS [Low Emission Development Strategy] can facilitate working towards agreement across government on economic development and climate change priorities, and can help attract political support and funding, both domestically and from the international community.”

Project Catalyst’s report on Low Carbon Growth Plans assessed what it called the “first generation” of LCDPs. “Experience of these first national plans highlights two crucial aspects in their development,” the analysis says. The first of these is “the involvement of stakeholders and government agencies from many sectors,” and the second is “the importance of ongoing review and iteration to take into account advances in scientific knowledge, international agreements, technological developments and learning about what works.”

Project Catalyst says that the among the key differences in the plans are the degrees to which they

  • “…are data-driven, based on an assessment of abatement and adaptation opportunities and costs.
  • “…specify concrete goals, targets and timelines.
  • “…address the need for institutional capacity and funding to implement the proposed policy packages.”

All three elements are critical, the report says, because they substantially affect the adequacy of the plansand the prospects for timely implementation.


In many countries WWF has helped to catalyze the establishment and implementation of LCDPs by strategically applying its influence and expertise both at the international and national levels. In the paper Agreeing [to] a low-carbon future in Cancun (Oct 2010) WWF emphasized the importance of plans for both developed and developing countries, arguing that governments should discuss progress on such plans in their biennial and quadrennial national communications to the UNFCCC Secretariat.

For each developed country, WWF calls for a “Zero Carbon Action Plan” (ZCAP), “a transformational plan…that is visionary and yet pragmatic.” The WWF paper says:

“Industrialized countries must significantly transform their economies and shift rapidly from a high carbon economic growth model to a sustainable development model that reaches near-zero emissions by 2050 and which, along with mitigation commitments, also considers already-inevitable impacts of climate change. ZCAPs need consist of an integrated adaptation and mitigation planning framework, projecting the many interlinkages and potential mutual impacts between mitigation and adaptation actions… ZCAPs for industrialized countries would not only assist in setting a pathway towards a low carbon economy for each country, they would also help to build trust globally by demonstrating that each country is indeed making adequate short and long-term institutional and financial investments to meet its emissions reduction commitment.”

In the case of developing countries, WWF recommends that “Low Carbon Action Plans” (LCAPs) be produced with technical and financial support from developed countries; and “clearly link development and climate goals to achieve sustainable development”:

“These Plans should be developed through a bottom-up country-driven process and should build upon and be integrated into national plans already in place in many countries. More economically advanced developing countries should start to develop LCAPs over the next 2-3 years, as they have already done considerable amounts of national planning.”

WWF suggested that other developing countries would require longer lead-times to produce their first LCAPs.

Among the countries where WWF has actively supported the development of LCDPs are those highlighted in a set of briefs:  BrazilGermany, Mexico, Scotland, South Africa and the United Kingdom (as a whole). Collectively, the briefs provide a glimpse into the diverse methodologies applied by certain developed and developing countries and the approaches taken by these countries under a range of different circumstances.   The briefs are intended to provide the inspiration and confidence in other countries to embark on similar processes of planning and implementation. The documents will be periodically updated; and supplemented with additional briefs summarizing plans being pursued – or proposed -- in other developed and developed countries.


Low Carbon Development Plans: WWF Briefs

Low Carbon Growth Plans - Advancing Good Practice [PDF]. By Project Catalyst, 2010.

Low-Emission Development Strategies (LEDs): Technical, Institutional and Policy Lessons [PDF]. By Christa Clapp, Gregory Briner and Katia Karousakis. OECD. November 2010. 


Samantha Smith, Leader, WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative (

Tasneem Essop, WWF Head of Climate Strategy and Advocacy(

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