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.

The sum of the NDCs equal the global commitment towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

A critical aspect of the Paris Agreement is that every five years, countries are required to update their national commitments with more ambitious targets. As a start, the world is anticipating each country to submit a new NDC in 2020 with more ambitious targets.

So, if every country achieves their national targets set out in their NDC, the Paris Agreement will be a success and we will avert the worst effects of climate change?

Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward.

A recent report produced by the United Nations Environment Programme indicated that if all countries met their current NDC targets, we would still only be one third of the way towards achieving the Paris Agreement.

The most recent reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underlined the importance of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5C. It highlighted the severe impact our planet and its people would face in a world that is 2C warmer than pre-industrial levels.

When we consider that many countries aren’t currently close to reaching their current NDC targets, which when added up are massively insufficient, the enormous challenge ahead comes sharply into focus.

However, all is not lost.

Over the last year, public awareness around the absolute necessity to deal with climate change has skyrocketed. This has been largely driven by grassroots movements such as Fridays For Future which has so far inspired around 8.6 million protestors in 215 countries.

Governments and business are beginning to listen.

At the UN Climate Action Summit, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cited 77 countries that have pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050, an essential objective for all countries if we are to prevent global warming from reaching catastrophic levels of 1.5C degrees and above.

UNDP’s Climate Action Promise

At UNDP, we stand with the UN Secretary-General and the UN system in the belief that achieving the Paris Agreement, and ensuring countries’ NDCs are effectively implemented, is our only hope of tackling climate change.

The Heat is On, a new report UNDP produced in partnership with UNFCCC, reveals that 75 countries representing 37 percent of global emissions, intend to update their current NDCs by 2020

As advocates of ambitious climate action, it is only right that UNDP imposes its own targets and sets the bar as high as possible.

Internally, UNDP along with the whole UN system is working on ‘greening the blue’, a sustainability initiative designed to reduce our footprint as much as possible.

Externally, and through our development work, the head of UNDP, Achim Steiner has launched UNDP’s Climate Action Promise: to help at least 100 countries improve their NDCs by the end of 2020. This will build on our existing portfolio of support on climate action to over 140 countries, and aim to help these countries strengthen their NDCs.

Through establishing ambitious targets, and the systems, institutions and resources essential to meeting them, we will be equipped with all we need to stabilize the warming of our planet. A race we must win. And a race we can win.