First, what’s an NDC?

Simply put, an NDC, or Nationally Determined Contribution, is a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Each Party to the Paris Agreement is required to establish an NDC and update it every five years. 

And what’s in it?

NDCs are where countries set targets for mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and for adapting to climate impacts. The plans define how to reach the targets, and elaborate systems to monitor and verify progress so it stays on track. Since climate finance is key to implementing the plans, NDCs ideally also detail a financing strategy. Check some country examples.

The Paris agreement asks countries to update their NDCs every five years. But given the large gap between the emissions cuts required to limit global warming to 1.5°C and the emissions reductions currently planned, the Glasgow Climate Pact in November 2021 called on all countries to revisit and strengthen the targets in their NDCs in 2022. Each new round of updates is expected to ratchet up ambition through steeper emissions cuts and more expansive adaptation measures. Building on each other over time, the NDCs are essential to ensuring a livable future for everyone on the planet.

The best NDCs aim high and reach far. Grounded in sound analysis and data, they help countries begin a transformative shift to development that is greener and more sustainable. They guide needed shifts in different sectors of the economy and provide an opportunity for rethinking how a society produces and consumes. They can support greater social inclusion, such as through specific benefits for women, youth and indigenous communities. Some countries now make links between NDCs and national development plans, including those to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

How do NDCs work?

Climate change, unlike many other issues, requires a wholesale transformation of our economies and societies. No corner will go untouched – energy, industry, agriculture, transport, institutions, individuals and more will need to make changes to reduce emissions and adapt to climate consequences that are already happening. 

That’s a daunting prospect – but not an unsolvable one. Having a plan helps countries understand and orchestrate the many different elements required to reduce emissions and adapt to protect lives and livelihoods, as soon as possible. Every bit of warming matters. With urgent and ambitious action, the world will avoid surpassing a threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, after which climate impacts would become even worse than they already are. 

NDCs factor in the understanding that countries have to balance emissions reductions with other critical demands like ending poverty. Further, the biggest emitters need to make the most dramatic and rapid cuts.

That said, every action counts, and every country has to push for change. Some of the most ambitious plans so far come from countries like the small island developing States. They know the urgency of climate action because they are already experiencing climate-related rises in sea level that for some could swamp their national territory. 

Where does an NDC come from?

Since an NDC is a government obligation under the Paris Agreement, one or more national ministries will generally lead its development. But for NDCs to work, they need to be widely understood and used by businesses, civil society, academia and ordinary citizens. Each has roles to play, which is why many governments invite different constituencies to take part in defining NDC priorities. 

Are current NDCs on track to achieve the Paris Agreement?

Not yet. So far, all 193 Parties to the Paris Agreement have issued at least a first NDC; 151 Parties communicated a new or updated NDC as of 2 November 2021. But quality and ambition vary, for many reasons, including a lack of adequate finance, capacity and, in some cases, insufficient political commitment. The pandemic-related economic downturn is expected to constrain implementation. 

For developing countries, moving forward depends on developed countries realizing their commitment to provide $100 billion in climate finance to developing countries. Dedicating half of this amount to adaptation would help close significant financing shortfalls for vital measures to protect lives and livelihoods. 

In 2023, the first in a series of global “stock takes” will assess progress on Paris Agreement goals. This process will further encourage countries to take ambitious climate actions that keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.  

A few NDCs of note

Want to get a flavour of what NDCs look like in the most recent round of updates in 2020-2021? Check the following selection as examples. 

Chile has set a goal in its NDC of reaching peak emissions no later than 2025. It intends to cut emissions across its economy, working closely with the private sector and applying tools such as carbon budgets. It will take steps to protect the ocean given its extensive coastline and move to a circular no-waste economy. 

Colombia aspires to be carbon neutral by 2050 and will use its NDCs to make that happen, with a plan to get halfway to net zero by 2030. It will green its energy system through NDC implementation agreements with the energy, agriculture and industrial sectors. Increasing commitment to adaptation is reflected in comprehensive progress indicators integrated in national monitoring.

The Dominican Republic has put climate action at the heart of a vision to transform its economy and is working with the private sector in mobilizing most of the funding for its NDC. Moves include revamping transportation, a major source of emissions, such as by shifting to electric and hybrid bus systems. 

Jamaica suffered a profound hit to tourism, its economic lifeline, during the pandemic. But it not only revised its NDC but committed to a 60 per cent increase in its target for emissions cuts. Its plan includes greater efficiency in water use to reduce waste and vulnerability to shortages.

Morocco boosted its planned emissions cuts to nearly 46 per cent by 2030. The plan adds nine new mitigation actions for a total of 61 across seven core sectors. For the first time, it seeks to reduce emissions in phosphate manufacturing, since it holds 75 percent of global phosphate reserves. A move to wind power will limit emissions from water desalination plants. 

Nepal’s latest NDC built on experiences in implementing its first, making strong advances in using data and evidence for setting clear short and medium-term emissions targets. Among other sectors, these cover energy as a whole along with components within it, such as power generation, transport, residential cooking and biogas

Panama developed its NDC through extensive consultations with people across the plan’s 10 priority sectors. It aims to restore 50,000 hectares of national forests and has increased its emissions target by 11.5 per cent by 2030. Risk mitigation improves protections for communities, health and infrastructure.

Rwanda was the first country in Africa to revise its initial NDC, with a bold goal to cut emissions by 38 per cent by 2030. It will pursue reductions across key sectors of its economy and has set up a system of indicators to track adaptation in water, agriculture, land and forestry, human settlements, health, transport and mining.

Viet Nam’s revised NDC ups the ambition of mitigation and adaptation targets, defining steps in energy, agriculture, waste, land use, land use change and forestry, and industry. Its projected emissions reductions are 34 per cent more than in its first NDC. 

How can I get involved?

Everyone is a climate actor and can be part of the change that needs to happen. For some ideas, see Act Now. If you want to take additional steps, see if you can become involved in your country’s NDC process. Learn more about what has happened so far. Link up with a local climate advocacy group or ask elected officials about their support for an ambitious NDC.

Learn more about NDCs

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change provides the Paris Agreement and other documents relevant to the NDCs, along with a registry of NDC submissions by country. 

Want to know more about good practices for NDCs? Check the NDC Partnership’s database by country, planning type and sectors and themes.  

UNDP’s Climate Promise works with 119 countries to enhance climate action, advance equality, tackle poverty, and strengthen social and environmental sustainability. 

The World Bank’s NDC Support Facility backs implementation of climate action plans, including through laws, budgets and investment choices. A recent review of experiences with NDCs in 50 countries highlighted lessons so far, including on tracking climate finance to detect investment gaps.