Forget Forecasting and Back Backcasting

We’re all familiar with forecasts. There’s not much to be done if you’ve planned your Sunday picnic when it’s set to rain. All that’s left is hoping, often in vain, that rain will turn into shine. Let’s flip this idea of looking into the future on its head. Instead of forecasting what is likely to happen, how about backcasting? If we know where we want to be, we can work backwards and plan how to get there!

Tackling climate change and enabling sustainable development dominated global negotiations last year. Successfully addressing these interconnected, mutually dependent challenges is essential, via the development of national long-term strategies for sustainable development and decarbonisation.

So let’s put backcasting into practice: we first need to know where we want to be. In Paris, countries agreed to pursue efforts to limiting global warming to 1.5ºC. To achieve this, a global phasing out of fossil fuels and phasing in of 100% renewable energy will be required by 2050, if not well before. By working back from 2050 to now, we can plan our path to get there individually and collectively, ensuring that we have time to change tracks if needed. The development of national long-term strategies for sustainable development and decarbonisation will provide us essential guidance on the impact of our current policy-making decisions., It is likely to show that achieving our long-term goals will require taking urgent action now. The more we raise our ambition in the short-term, the less steep emissions curbs will need to be in the future. See the logic?

For governments, backcasting through ambitious long-term strategies represents a significant opportunity to assess and plan for how their development needs and priorities fit. Furthermore, the resulting policies are likely to provide several co-benefits, while also contributing to countries’ fulfilment of both the aims of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of the 17 SDGs. Long-term planning will avoid locking in high carbon infrastructure and send a strong signal to the private sector, creating a positive policy framework for businesses to make informed decisions for shifting financial flows to climate-friendly investments.  

Recent discussions at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development show that political momentum is building in the recognition of the need to address these challenges synergistically. The Paris Agreement requires long-term strategies to be delivered by 2020, but several countries have indicated they will deliver sooner than this. Between now and the facilitative dialogue at COP24 in 2018, there is a real opportunity to ramp up global ambition on climate change.

 

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