COP28: what are NDCs and why do we hear about them so often?

 COP28: what are NDCs and why do we hear about them so often?

If you follow news about the climate crisis and the COP negotiations in particular, you will certainly have come across the acronym ‘NDCs’, and perhaps even wondered what it means. Here, today we understand what they are, where they come from, what they are used for and how we are using them.

Sofia Farina

What does “NDC” mean?

NDCs are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and are one of the main instruments to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. They are national commitments related to combating climate change that each Party – i.e. each country – is required to develop and that explain how Parties themselves will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapting to impacts.

Practically, NDCs represent short- to medium-term plans and must be updated every five years with increasing ambitions, depending on each country’s capabilities. The periodic updating of NDCs is linked to a key principle of the Paris Agreement, which is for countries to ‘step up’ their plans, i.e. increase their efforts every five years to reflect each Party’s ‘highest possible ambition’. Ideally, the NDCs, revised and updated every five years, will mark the milestones on the path to bring the planet to zero emissions by 2050.

Brief history of the NDCs

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, scheduled for 2020. Already looking at these two generations of commitments, we can see the mechanism mentioned earlier, of increasing ambition year by year. Indeed, the first generation of NDCs reflected an aggregate reduction of the global average temperature target to 3.7 degrees Celsius, while the second generation of NDCs lowered this target to 2.7 degrees Celsius. It should be noted, however, that even if this step has moved in the right direction, we are still a long way from achieving the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.

What they are, concretely

But what, in practice, do we find written in the NDCs of the countries of the world? Starting with the fact that we can consult them directly, so if you feel like it, you can spend a lot of time ‘wandering’ around on the relevant site (, let’s see what these plans comprise. The NDCs specifically include countries’ commitments to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts, with quantitative or qualitative targets, deadlines and a range of actions in priority sectors, such as energy, transport, agriculture, health, water, infrastructure, tourism and more. Most countries also included estimated budgets for achieving climate targets, with many developing countries indicating the need for external financial support to implement some or all of their actions when they do not have the necessary domestic resources. When targets depend on external financial support, they are referred to as conditional targets, while targets that a country can achieve without external financial support are referred to as unconditional.

Are the current NDCs sufficient?

Let us now come to the point: one of the reasons why there has been so much talk about NDCs in recent months is that recently – a few months ago – an overall assessment of the targets submitted by all parties was carried out, to see whether they are sufficient to meet the goals we have set ourselves as humanity, or not. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, the answer is no.

In fact, according to the current plans, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase by 9% (up from 11% last year and 14% two years ago) by 2030 compared to 2010 levels, when they would have to decrease by 45% by the end of this decade to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C.

The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Simon Stiell, stated that governments are taking baby steps to avoid the crisis.

With this in mind, we head towards a COP where the hope is that new ambitious and drastic commitments will be made by all parties.

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