This report explores why countries make net zero commitments and how they can advance from political promise to integrating and implementing the commitment through their national governance systems – described as a ‘governance pathway’. The analysis can help support countries in different stages of their governance pathway towards net zero.

The report presents a framework for understanding governance pathways, which also enables identification of opportunities and challenges associated with strengthening the credibility of commitments in different political and socioeconomic contexts. It is applied in the report to two case study countries, Fiji and Spain, chosen to represent a developing and a developed country but both of which have integrated net zero targets into their national legislation and are in the process of implementation.

Key messages

  • Strong national governance is essential to address the worrying shortfalls in the ambition, implementation and credibility of national commitments to reaching net zero emissions that continue to be indicated by multiple scientific reports.
  • Following a country’s political promise of a net zero target, the significant task of making this pledge a reality requires a whole body of supportive governance infrastructure.
  • The authors identify the following ‘drivers’ that move governments towards making net zero promises, integrating and implementing them:
    • International peer pressure and leadership
    • Supranational legal requirements
    • Historical context and political culture
    • Economic opportunities and access to finance
    • Domestic social pressure and just transition
    • Political party competition
    • Climate vulnerability
    • Science and knowledge
  • By amplifying important drivers relevant to a specific country, political ambition on net zero can be increased, and its effective implementation can be advanced.
  • To assist countries in developing robust governance frameworks and to provide internationally comparable data, the report includes an assessment of the linkages to nine climate governance functions in 26 net zero laws from around the world. This analysis shows that to date, the main focus has been on strategy-setting, and narrative and long-term objectives. There is less emphasis in the laws on establishing mechanisms to generate independent knowledge, coordination arrangements and on mainstreaming across sectors.
  • The existence of a particular climate governance function, and reference to it in a net zero law, does not automatically secure credible implementation.
  • Although net zero laws in Fiji and Spain make strong linkages to most of the nine core climate governance functions, both countries face implementation challenges in similar areas and face practical difficulties in aligning policies with long-term objectives and overcoming implementation hurdles.

The report makes recommendations for building and maintaining political commitment to net zero, and promoting governance systems that enable net zero implementation. The recommendations are aimed at stakeholders including governments, civil society, businesses, funding providers, international organisations and non-governmental organisations.

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