What are NDCs and why are they important?

UN Development Programme
4 min readNov 15, 2019
Bhutan has committed to remain carbon neutral, with forest protection being a core approach, to meet its NDCs. ©soja8192/Shutterstock.com

The Paris Agreement in 2016 was a landmark moment in the fight against climate change.

After years of negotiating, every one of the 196 countries plus the European Union, all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), came together in Paris to agree upon a set of principles on how we can curb greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change impacts head on. This was called the Paris Agreement.

The overarching aim of the Paris Agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that global temperatures don’t rise more than 2C above pre-industrial levels this century, and ultimately pursue a scenario where temperature rise remains below 1.5C.

Not too complicated so far, but what are NDCs?

NDC stands for a Nationally Determined Contribution. For the Paris Agreement goals to be achieved, every country needs to play its part.

Because countries have different circumstances, resources and abilities, the agreement was designed so each country defines their own pledges, in terms of targets and contributions to the universal agreement. These country pledges are the NDCs.

Each country produced an NDC document outlining these contributions and how they will be achieved.

For example, one of Chile’s approaches is electrifying transport, aiming for 80 percent of the transport sector to be electrified by 2040.

Bhutan has committed to remain carbon neutral, with forest protection being a core approach. By keeping a minimum of 60 percent forest cover, Bhutan’s forests cancel out a proportion of its emissions. This is done through carbon sequestration, where plants suck up carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Nearly all the NDCs include a target to reduce CO2 emissions by a certain amount over a given time. Most of them also highlight how climatic changes will affect their country, and how they intend adapt to these changes.

For example, Bangladesh has outlined specific adaptation priorities in its NDC, and is contributing to the Paris Agreement through its leadership in adaptation. It does this, on top of defining its mitigation contribution to reduce CO2 emissions.

UN Development Programme

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