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22 November 20233 minute read

What are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and why do they matter?

“Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of its long-term goals. NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.”[1]

The requirement on countries to report their NDC was introduced by Article 4 of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Each country that signed up to the Paris Agreement must “prepare, communicate and maintain” the actions they will take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to adapt to the impacts of climate change. NDCs must be updated by each country every five years and are required to be a progression from the previous NDC, reflecting the country’s “highest possible ambition”.

A registry of NDCs, maintained by the UNFCCC Secretariat can be accessed here. The level of detail submitted by countries in their NDCs varies, but the majority of NDCs contain a country’s plan for emissions reduction from greenhouse gases, an analysis of climate risks and impacts for that country, and commitments to emissions reduction and climate adaptation. Most NDCs also include estimated budgets for the achievement of those commitments and, in the case of some developing countries, indicate the need for financial or technological support to achieve those commitments.

Why are NDCs important?

NDCs are important for several reasons:

  • they reflect the need for collective action on climate change;
  • they demonstrate the different capabilities and contributions of countries in achieving the global goals of the Paris Agreement, and often identify where external financial or other types of support are required by a country;
  • they are a tool for raising climate ambition over time. This “ambition ratchet mechanism”, which requires NDCs to be updated every five years, acknowledges that reduction of emissions is an iterative process; and
  • they offer an opportunity for unprecedented data collection and analysis on global efforts to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects, with the potential to drive more effective and ambitious climate action. The first iteration of this, the Global Stocktake, is due to conclude at COP28.
Concluding comments: enhancing the effectiveness of NDCs

The Global Stocktake, a two-year process designed to chart and measure the global progress made towards achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement, will be instructive in assessing how effective NDCs have been in driving climate action. The conclusions of the Global Stocktake may also highlight barriers to achieving the commitments set out in NDCs and encourage efforts to break down those barriers. Ultimately, a commitment to reduce emissions is only as good as the national frameworks, laws and policies which support it, and directing finance, technology and expertise into building effective frameworks is essential to the effectiveness of NDCs. Further, the commitments made in a country’s NDC should be aligned with relevant domestic policies, a country’s National Adaptation Plan, and other domestic climate-related goals and targets.

The next generation of NDCs is due for submission in 2025, by which time countries will have had an opportunity to digest the conclusions and recommendations from the Global Stocktake.