Nationally Determined Contributions (Is There Global Climate Ambition?)
How are nations signalling their commitments to combating climate change? Navigate the intricacies of Nationally Determined Contributions. Their evolution, challenges, and exemplary success stories from around the world.
Published:
Loading reading time...

What are nationally determined contributions (NDCs)?

A nationally determined contribution (NDC) is a voluntary national plan that outlines greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and climate change mitigation targets.

They serve as the cornerstone of ambitious climate action plans on a global scale.

At their core, NDCs represent individualised climate action plans meticulously crafted by countries to address the looming climate crisis.

The Paris Agreement and national climate targets to prevent extreme temperature rises

These emission reduction commitments stem from a broader framework, the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty focused on climate change mitigation efforts. Its main target is to keep the average temperature increase below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Ideally aiming for 1.5°C.

Under this pivotal climate agreement, every signatory nation is responsible for formulating its distinct national priorities and mitigation pledges. They reflect the ambitions, capacities, and national circumstances of each country.

But the commitment doesn’t end there.

The Paris Agreement also emphasises the dynamism of these climate pledges. Every five years, countries revisit their NDCs at climate summits. 

Nations must reflect upon their journey, re-evaluate their targets, and fine-tune their strategies to remain aligned with the evolving global scenario.

The sheer number of participants is a testament to this initiative’s global resonance. As of today, a remarkable 195 parties have stepped forward, united in their determination to reduce climate impacts. 

This includes 194 sovereign nations and the European Union, each contributing unique perspectives, challenges, and solutions to the global climate dialogue.

How NDCs work

Envision a classroom where students stand up and passionately pledge their commitment to a project. That’s the essence of NDCs on the world stage.

Each country, akin to individual students, makes a solemn promise to take actions that contribute to the betterment of our planet.

But these aren’t vague, abstract promises. They’re well-defined, strategic, and tailored to each nation’s unique capacities and circumstances.

Central to country pledges is mitigation and adaptation

First, there’s mitigation. Countries set forth comprehensive strategies to reduce or neutralise their GHG emissions, the primary culprits of accelerating climate change.

Transitioning to renewable energy sources, enhancing forest covers to absorb CO2 emissions, or innovating cleaner industrial processes can all contribute to mitigation efforts.

home renewable energy p 1080

The second objective is adaptation. Recognising that some climate changes are inevitable, countries devise plans to adapt to these shifts, ensuring their people, ecosystems, and economies remain resilient.

This could entail constructing sea walls against sea level rise, adopting drought-resistant crops, or improving infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events.

However, setting long-term goals is just the starting point.

The real challenge lies in consistently working towards them and ensuring transparency and accountability. To that end, NDCs incorporate robust monitoring and verification systems.

These mechanisms ensure that nations remain committed to their pledges, periodically assess their progress, and recalibrate their strategies if they deviate from their set path.

It’s a continuous loop of setting, assessing, and refining goals, ensuring the global community remains on track to combat climate change effectively.

The depth and impact of NDCs

NDCs are not just about numbers or targets; they represent a nation’s commitment to a broader vision of sustainable growth.

At their core, NDCs outline transformative roadmaps that navigate towards more ecologically balanced economies.

Climate targets for sectors with high emissions

Identifying the industries most in need of change, such as the energy, transportation, and agriculture sectors, provides a scaffold for nations to redesign their core approach to production, consumption, and overall economic health.

However, the most impactful NDCs don’t merely prescribe changes; they are rooted in rigorous analysis and empirical data.

By anchoring their strategies in science and research, nations ensure that their climate action is both practical and efficient, maximising their potential to curb emissions and bolster climate resilience.

These well-researched plans set the stage for a transformative journey, guiding countries away from carbon-intensive practices and towards a greener, cleaner, and sustainable future.

Social equity and inclusion

However, the reach of NDCs extends beyond environmental considerations. NDCs can also be a powerful tool for social equity and inclusivity. 

By recognising and addressing the unique needs and contributions of diverse groups:

  • Women – who often bear the heaviest impacts of climate change.
  • The youth – who represent the future stakeholders of our planet.
  • Or indigenous communities – whose traditional knowledge can offer valuable insights into sustainable living.

NDCs can weave a fabric of change that provides climate justice alongside an energy transition.

Graph displaying the relationship between ambition and inclusion for various country NDCs, highlighting policy balances.
Mapping NDC ambition to inclusive approaches (Source: UNDP)

One of the emerging trends in the world of NDCs is their integration with broader national development agendas.

Rather than viewing climate action in isolation, forward-thinking nations are converging their NDCs with broader strategies and goals, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This synergy ensures that as countries march towards a sustainable future, they do so in a way that addresses multifaceted challenges – from poverty eradication and gender equality to clean water and education – creating a holistic, sustainable future for all.

How are NDCs developed, submitted and updated?

Crafting an NDC is no simple task; it’s a delicate balance of scientific analysis, socio-economic considerations, and political will.

The process typically begins with an extensive review of a nation’s current environmental status. Using comprehensive data on emissions, energy consumption, land use, and more, countries identify their major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Consultations play a crucial role in the development phase. Stakeholders from various sectors – industry, academia, civil society, or indigenous communities – provide their insights, ensuring that the resulting NDC is both ambitious and achievable.

This inclusive approach fosters ownership and buy-in, crucial for successfully implementing the proposed actions.

Once a draft NDC is formulated, it’s often opened for public comment, allowing citizens a voice in their nation’s climate commitment. This step further strengthens the democratic ethos of the NDC development process.

After internal approval and possible refinements, the finalized NDC is then submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The UNFCCC acts as the central repository, ensuring transparency and facilitating global collaboration by allowing countries to learn from and build upon each other’s commitments.

However, the journey doesn’t end with submission.

As highlighted earlier, one of the Paris Agreement’s foundational tenets is these pledges’ dynamism.

Every five years, signatory nations are expected to share their progress, reflect on successes, learn from challenges, and revisit their mitigation commitments.

This cyclical review ensures that countries can adapt to new scientific findings, technological advancements, or socio-economic shifts, continually aligning their climate action with the best available knowledge and practices.

Climate action timeline, marking key global events and targets from Paris Rulebook adoption to a net-zero 2050 goal.
Key approaches to enhance ambition over time (Source: World Resources Institute)

Challenges, opportunities and criticisms of NDCs

NDCs, while a beacon of global hope and cooperation in the fight against climate change, aren’t without their challenges and critiques.

Understanding these nuances is essential to appreciate the complexities involved and work towards more effective strategies.

Challenges

  • Varying Ambitions: There’s a vast disparity in the ambitions of NDCs across nations. While some countries set bold, aggressive targets, others remain conservative, driven by a myriad of factors ranging from economic concerns to political considerations.
  • Financial Constraints: Many developing nations possess the will to transition to greener technologies and infrastructures but lack climate finance. Securing financial resources, especially amid global economic uncertainties, poses a significant challenge.
  • Technical Expertise: Not all nations have equal access to the latest technological solutions or the expertise to implement them. This technological divide can hinder the pace of change.
  • Verification Mechanisms: Ensuring transparency and accountability in tracking the progress of NDCs is paramount. Yet, developing robust and universally accepted monitoring systems is a complex endeavour.

Opportunities

  • International Collaboration: NDCs provide a platform for nations to collaborate, share knowledge, and pool resources. Such joint ventures can accelerate the pace of innovation and implementation.
  • Economic Revitalization: Transitioning to greener technologies and industries presents opportunities for job creation, fostering economic growth while combating the effects of climate change.
  • Holistic Development: As nations integrate NDCs with broader development goals, they can address multiple challenges, from improving public health to ensuring food security, under one cohesive strategy.

Criticisms

  • Lack of Enforcement: One of the primary criticisms is the non-binding nature of NDCs. The Paris Agreement doesn’t enforce penalties for non-compliance, leading sceptics to question the efficacy of such voluntary commitments.
  • Inequitable Burden: Critics argue that historically significant polluters, primarily developed nations, should bear a more substantial responsibility while emerging economies seek space for development.
  • Overemphasis on Mitigation: Some believe there’s disproportionate attention on mitigation strategies, sidelining crucial adaptation efforts that many vulnerable regions urgently need.

Despite these challenges and criticisms, NDCs remain a vital tool in our global arsenal against climate change.

Understanding these nuances can refine national climate policies to ensure a more inclusive, effective, and collaborative approach to a sustainable future.

Examples and success stories of NDCs from various countries

The global commitment to addressing climate change is evident in the diverse range of NDCs set forth by nations, each moulded by their unique challenges, aspirations, and socio-economic contexts.

Here are some striking examples from the recent round of updates in 2020-2021 that showcase the evolving dynamism and ambition in national climate strategies:

  • Chile: Intending to peak its emissions by 2025, Chile is forging a strong alliance with the private sector, leveraging tools like carbon budgets. Recognising the importance of its vast coastline, Chile prioritises marine conservation alongside its transition to a circular, no-waste economy.
  • Colombia: Setting its sights on becoming carbon neutral by 2050, Colombia is laying out a roadmap to halve its emissions by 2030. By fostering collaboration with pivotal sectors—energy, agriculture, and industry—Colombia embeds green strategies deep within its economy, complemented by robust adaptation indicators.
  • Dominican Republic: Embracing climate action as a transformative lever, the Dominican Republic is pivoting towards eco-friendly transportation solutions, exemplified by its shift to electric and hybrid bus systems. Mobilising private sector funds has been crucial in this journey.
  • Jamaica: Despite grappling with pandemic-induced challenges in its tourism sector, Jamaica demonstrated unwavering commitment by amplifying its emissions reduction target by 60%. Key strategies include enhancing water-use efficiency, thus conserving resources and bolstering resilience against shortages.
Bar chart depicting the progress in Jamaica's emissions reduction targets between original and updated NDCs for 2030, emphasizing commitment to curb greenhouse gases.
Jamaica’s Updated NDC compared to Original NDC. Adapted from “Vivid Economics (2020)” by NDC Partnership
  • Morocco: Morocco’s ambitious roadmap envisions slashing emissions by nearly 46% by 2030. With 61 mitigation actions spanning seven key sectors, it pioneers efforts to limit emissions in phosphate manufacturing—a sector critical to Morocco, given its dominance in global phosphate reserves. Transitioning to wind power, especially for desalination plants, further underscores its commitment.
  • Nepal: Building upon the insights from its initial NDC, Nepal’s latest plan accentuates data-driven strategies. Nepal exemplifies evidence-based climate action by setting definitive targets across various sectors—including power generation, transportation, and residential energy needs.
  • Panama: Panama’s NDC, sculpted through broad consultations, champions afforestation with an ambition to rejuvenate 50,000 hectares of national forests. Complementing this, it aims for an 11.5% surge in emission reduction targets by 2030, fortifying protections across communities, health, and infrastructure.
  • Rwanda: As Africa’s frontrunner in revising its initial NDC, Rwanda’s audacious plan is to diminish emissions by 38% by 2030. Through comprehensive strategies enveloping vital economic sectors, Rwanda has also instituted indicators to monitor adaptation progress in diverse areas, from agriculture and water to transport and mining.
  • Vietnam: Vietnam’s recalibrated NDC augments mitigation and adaptation goals, detailing concrete steps in the energy sector, agriculture, and waste management. This renewed commitment translates to a projected 34% enhancement in emission reductions compared to its inaugural NDC.

You can find your national targets by visiting the Climate Action Tracker.

These stories echo a global narrative of hope, innovation, and commitment. As countries continue to refine their NDCs, they shape their futures and contribute to a global tapestry of sustainable progress.

The bottom line: everyone can play a role in climate action

Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, are collective climate goals. Crafted with meticulous care and tailored to each nation’s unique context, these plans capture the spirit of global unity and determination.

Throughout this article, we’ve journeyed through the conception, intricacies, challenges, and successes of NDCs, understanding their pivotal role in steering the world towards a sustainable future.

Their profound impact resonates in economies, ecosystems, and the fabric of societies, laying the groundwork for a world that balances growth with ecological harmony.

Vibrant radial design urging immediate action on pressing issues. The 'ACT NOW' centre signals urgency.
Act Now Logo

However, the climate narrative isn’t solely the domain of nations and policymakers. Every individual has the potential to be a catalyst for change.

So, how can you make a difference?

Remember, everyone is a climate actor. For actionable insights, we invite you to get involved with Act Now, an initiative by the UN.

Beyond individual actions, consider diving deeper: participate in your nation’s NDC process, engage in dialogues, and shape the climate conversation. In this global endeavour, every voice matters, and every action counts.

Together, we can usher in an era of sustainable transformation.

Frequently asked questions

Countries determine their NDCs based on national circumstances, capabilities, and priorities, often through consultations and analyses involving multiple stakeholders.

NDCs are monitored through a transparent framework established by the Paris Agreement, which requires countries to report regularly on emissions and progress made in achieving their targets.

NDCs are expected to be updated or revised every five years, to increase ambition and reflect current circumstances.

Factors include current emission levels, potential for reduction, economic capabilities, technological availability, environmental considerations, and social and political priorities.

NDCs themselves are not legally binding. However, the process to submit, update, and review them is binding under the Paris Agreement.

Photo of author

Author

Jose Antonio Barba Gomez
Jose is a sustainability researcher with a thirst for knowledge. He has a Bachelor's in Chemical Engineering, a diploma in Finance, and a Master's in Environmental Engineering.

Leave a comment