Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, are individual country-level commitments that outline the efforts and actions a country intends to take to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were a key component of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the legally binding international treaty aimed at addressing climate change. Each participating country in the Paris Agreement was required to submit its own NDC, which reflects its national circumstances, capabilities, and priorities. Countries are encouraged to enhance their NDCs every five years to reflect increased ambition in tackling climate change.

Defined by each country, an NDC comprises specific targets and strategies, reflecting its own domestic considerations, from ending poverty to developing climate finance or improving physical resilience to climate change effects.

How do NDCs work?

The main elements typically included in NDCs are:

  1. GHG emissions reduction targets: countries set their own specific goals for reducing GHG emissions, usually in terms of absolute emissions reductions or intensity-based targets. The targets can cover different sectors of the economy, such as energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and forestry.
  2. Adaptation measures: Countries outline their strategies for adapting to the impacts of climate change, taking into account their vulnerabilities and specific adaptation needs. This may include actions related to agriculture, water resources, infrastructure, health, and other sectors.
  3. Mitigation strategies and policies: Countries describe the policies, measures, and actions they plan to implement to achieve their emissions reduction targets. This may involve renewable energy deployment, energy efficiency improvements, forest conservation, sustainable agriculture practices, and other initiatives.
  4. Means of implementation: Countries may include information on the support they need and the support they can provide to implement their NDCs. This can involve financial resources, technology transfer, capacity building, and international cooperation. 

NDCs in practice

In Chile one of the key approaches is electrifying transport, aiming for 80 percent of the transport sector to be electrified by 2040 – an ambitious target given the country’s traditional reliance on petrol and diesel fuel.

The United States has pledged to achieve a 50-52% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by the year 2030. The NDC includes a range of measures, such as transitioning to clean energy, improving energy efficiency, and investing in sustainable transportation.

China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, submitted its NDC in 2020. The country pledged to peak its CO2 emissions before 2030 and strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. China’s NDC emphasises the development of low-carbon industries, renewable energy expansion, energy conservation measures, and the promotion of sustainable transportation.

Running out of time

NDCs, though not legally binding, play a vital role as they form the basis for transparency, accountability, and global cooperation among the 193 countries that signed the Paris Agreement. As of 2nd November 2021, all signatory countries have issued at least their first NDC, and 151 of them have shared updated or new NDCs.

However, a recent report by the IPCC indicates a more than 50% chance of global temperatures rising beyond 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) in the next five years. The current pace and scale of actions, as well as existing plans, are insufficient to effectively combat climate change. To achieve their goals, countries must adopt more rigorous approaches. The gaps between projected emissions from implemented policies, NDCs, and available financial resources fall short of the levels needed to meet climate goals across all sectors and regions.

In November, various governments will gather at the Cop28 UN climate summit to assess progress towards the Paris Agreement objectives. This evaluation, known as the "global stocktake," is expected to reveal the concerning reality: the world is significantly behind in its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the required 43% this decade.

Dr. Matt Kennedy

Director, Arup