Climate commitments, still in small steps 

 Climate commitments, still in small steps 

We understand what they are, where they come from, what they are for, and how we are using the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which will be on the agenda at the UN Climate Conference in Dubai

Sofia Farina 

If you follow news related to the climate crisis and, in particular, COP negotiations, you have surely come across the acronym “NDC,” and maybe you have wondered what it means. Well, today we understand what they are, where they come from, what they are for, and how we are using them. 

NDCs are the Nationally Determined Contributions, and they are one of the main tools to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. They are national commitments related to the fight against climate change that each Party – that is, each country – is required to develop, explaining how the Parties will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapting to impacts. In practice, NDCs represent short-to-medium-term plans and must be updated every five years with increasingly ambitious targets, based on each country’s capabilities. 

The periodic update of NDCs is connected to a key principle of the Paris Agreement, which is that countries “enhance” their plans, i.e., increase their efforts every five years to reflect the “highest possible ambition” of each Party. Ideally, revised and updated NDCs every five years will mark the milestones to bring the planet to zero emissions by 2050. The first generation of NDCs was part of the initial adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, and the second generation represents the first update in 2020. Even considering these two generations of commitments, we can observe the mechanism we mentioned earlier of increasing ambitions year by year. 

In fact, the first generation of NDCs reflected an aggregate reduction in the global average temperature goal to 3.7 degrees Celsius, while the second generation of NDCs lowered this goal to 2.7 degrees Celsius. It’s worth noting, however, that even though this is a step in the right direction, we are still far from achieving the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. But what do we find, practically speaking, in the NDCs of the world’s countries? Starting from the fact that we can consult them directly, so if you’re interested, you can spend a lot of time browsing through the dedicated site (https://unfccc.int/NDCREG), let’s see what these plans encompass. 

NDCs specifically include countries’ commitments for emission reduction and adaptation to climate impacts, with quantitative or qualitative objectives, deadlines, and a series of actions in priority sectors such as energy, transportation, agriculture, health, water, infrastructure, tourism, and much more.

Conditioned and Unconditioned Objectives 

Most countries have also included estimated budgets to achieve climate goals, with many developing countries indicating the need for external financial support to implement some or all of their actions when they lack the necessary internal resources. When goals depend on external financial support, they are indicated as conditioned objectives, while objectives that a country can achieve without external financial support are defined as unconditioned. Now, let’s get to the point: one of the reasons why NDCs have been talked about a lot in recent months is that recently – a few months ago – a comprehensive assessment of the objectives presented by all parties was conducted to understand if they are sufficient to meet the goals we have set as humanity or not. 

Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the answer is no. In fact, according to current plans, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase by 9% (compared to 11% last year and 14% two years ago) by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, when they should decrease by 45% compared to 2010 levels by the end of this decade to limit the increase in global temperature to 1.5 C. The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Simon Stiell, has stated that governments are taking baby steps to avoid the crisis. With these premises, we are heading towards a COP where the hope is that new ambitious and drastic commitments will be made by all parties.”

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