There are many reasons why Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) are important. But we begin with some history.
Prior to the Paris Agreement (2015), only 38 developed countries were required to reduce emissions based on multilaterally agreed targets. These targets legally bound countries to do ‘whatever it took’ to meet their obligation over a predefined commitment period. The approach fundamentally failed because, when push came to shove, it became clear that countries could and, in fact, did walk away from their mitigation commitments with only a loss of face.
Seven reasons why NDCs are so important:
First, NDCs pivot away from imposed ‘top-down’ targets toward self-determined, bottom-up pledges to act based on a country’s own assessment of circumstances and priorities.
Second, NDCs facilitate appropriate climate action by all countries. Indeed, this universal application is the defining characteristic of the Paris Agreement.
Third, because information underpinning the self-assessment is presented within NDCs, they offer a transparent snapshot of national circumstances at a point in time. They include information about physical and geographical attributes, economic circumstances, contribution to (and ability to sequester) global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), and vulnerability to climate change impacts.
Fourth, because they encourage countries to consider their mitigation potential then indicate what they will do, how, by when and with what assistance (if necessary). This makes them blueprints for climate action. They also offer flexibility as countries may choose which policies, programmes and financial tools they will use to achieve their goals.
Fifth, while not a compulsory element, most countries have used NDCs to highlight how they will adapt to climate change impacts, specify adaptation priorities and indicate support needs. This element invites all countries – not just those with urgent mitigation challenges – to participate in global action.
Sixth, the projected impacts of NDCs can be aggregated to show where the world stands in relation to climate goals and enhancing scientific understanding about the progression of global warming and its impacts on the global climate system.
Seventh, NDCs are works in progress. They must be updated every five years to accommodate improved scientific data, changing circumstances and growing political support for stronger, more ambitious climate action.
Under the first NDCs submitted in 2015, countries set the world on a pathway to a 3.4 °C temperature increase, well above the 2 °C goal agreed in Paris. Cumulative evidence highlights the increasing frequency and growing severity of climate change impacts around the world. Furthermore, in 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made clear that even at 1.5 °C of global warming – the aspirational goal supported by the EU and most EU EU GCCA+ partners – many of the world’s ecosystems would be irreversibly damaged, putting people and physical assets at an ever-increasing risk.
With EU GCCA+ partners among the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts, the importance of finalising NDC updates in 2021 – with sufficient ambition to significantly narrow the emissions gap – cannot be overstated. In February 2021, the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) released a synthesis of the 48 NDCs updating the pledges of 75 countries (for example, the EU comprises 1 NDC for 27 countries) representing 39.5 % of the Parties. Although the process of updating is not complete, it is of concern that they only intend to increase their mitigation ambition by a meagre 2.7 %.
This issue of our magazine explores some of the ways EU GCCA+ partners are harnessing the power of NDCs to integrate climate change into national development planning, and to pool international resources to support national priorities with EU GCCA+ support. We also explore some of the challenges countries face in meeting their support needs, and how barriers are being overcome to translate national goals into actions at the local level.