Following COP26, what next for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)?

Following COP26, what next for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)?
15 November 2021

Following COP26, what next for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)?

James Harries, Principal Consultant in International Climate Change looks at the request coming out of COP26 for countries to further update their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and suggests two key principles – to have clarity on which NDCs need updating, and to close the gap between current emissions trajectories and the NDC targets by focusing much more on implementation of the NDCs.

So, the dust is starting to settle on COP26. There were so many things coming out of it that will need further scrutiny, analysis and discussion – the coal phase-down, some of the long-term targets (e.g. India's 2070 net zero pledge), loss and damage (compensation for climate change damage to poor and vulnerable countries), the conclusions to the negotiations on the details of Article 6 (carbon markets) and the enhanced transparency framework (for tracking and communicating progress in tackling climate change).

But in this blog, I want to focus on one thing – the ambition of keeping global temperature rises to within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Under the Paris Agreement in 2015, signatory countries1 agreed to submit increasingly ambitious emissions reductions plans in their NDCs every five years. However, after the initial enthusiasm about COP21 in Paris and the first round of updates, it has become clear that the pledges were still not enough to deliver the 1.5°C goal. And that hasn’t changed. But what is being sold as the ‘big win’ on the mitigation side is Article 29 of the Glasgow Climate Pact2, which ‘requests’ countries revisit and strengthen their NDCs by the end of next year.

Sounds logical, right? If we know the NDCs are not currently strong enough, and the urgency of the issue means we can’t wait until 2025 to revise them again, then, of course, we want countries to strengthen their NDCs before then. But, as always, things are a bit more complicated than that.
International donor agencies that support the NDC process will now be thinking through what sort of support will be needed to help deliver on this commitment by the end of 2022. And having been heavily involved in the NDC process thus far – helping countries to develop, implement, finance and update their NDCs over the past seven years since before the Paris COP – Ricardo is in a great place to assist this urgent and important work.
In my view, there are two key considerations to bear in mind – first that we need clarity on which NDCs need updating, and second that there needs to be an intense focus on policy implementation, and not just the NDC targets.

Which countries should update their NDCs?

Article 29 talks about countries revisiting and strengthening their NDCs ‘as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal’. So that immediately begs the question – which countries’ NDCs are not currently aligned? Some countries did not update their NDCs before COP26, so they should obviously be a priority. Indeed, that group of countries has its own paragraph in the Glasgow Climate Pact –paragraph 28 – urging them to produce updated NDCs as soon as possible and before the next COP in Egypt in late 2022.
But what about those that have already updated their NDCs? How do we know which ones need to update them again?
The first thing to consider is how ambitious their NDCs currently are. For example, we helped Nigeria before COP26 to update its NDC, and the Climate Action Tracker has put it into the category of ‘almost sufficient’, along with only seven other countries (no countries’ NDCs are deemed sufficient). This means that Nigeria’s NDC is compatible with warming of less than 2°C and could be made ‘1.5°C-aligned’ with only moderate improvements. 

Surely the focus of the revision and strengthening of NDCs by end of next year needs to focus on those NDCs that are deemed to be either insufficient, highly insufficient or critically insufficient3.

Another thing to bear in mind is countries’ influence on global warming. For example, more than 70% of current global emissions (and a much greater proportion of cumulative global emissions) comes from the G20 countries. So, putting these two things together – the scale of emissions from a country and the strength of their current targets, the focus over the next year should be on those large emitters that have either not yet updated their NDCs or whose update is deemed to be insufficient. We need to be targeted and selective with further revision of NDCs – as I explain below, countries need to make progress with implementing their NDCs and further revisions makes that process more challenging (but not impossible).

More focus on implementation

The Climate Action Tracker's analysis
 of the commitments made in Glasgow is sobering reading. Much has been made of two numbers – 1.8°C and 2.4°C of warming.

The former is what we could achieve if we count not just the NDCs updated before COP26 but also the various long-term targets and other pledges made (e.g. the methane and deforestation initiatives). The latter is what we’d get if the NDCs alone, as updated prior to COP26, were met. As mentioned, people have been focusing on the fact that the current NDCs are not sufficient and don’t get us near the 1.5°C goal.

But fewer people are talking about another number, 2.7°C of warming, which is what we’d get based on the current policies in place to tackle emissions. Let that just sink in. The current NDCs are not likely to be met based on current policies.
Asking countries to update targets that they are currently not on track to meet is a big ask. It is therefore crucial that all countries work intensively on NDC implementation over the coming year. This means developing or updating NDC implementation plans, developing specific policies, attracting support for their implementation, putting in place governance structures and building capacity to allow this to happen. This is where much of the focus for support from international donors needs to be over the next year, to close that gap between NDC targets and current policies.
And for those countries whose NDCs are not currently deemed to be aligned with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal, work on further raising of ambition could be done alongside this implementation support but not in place of it.

Links to adaptation

Finally, given we are not on track to achieve the 1.5°C goal, it’s important that NDC implementation and any further updates to NDCs consider synergies and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation. Both implementation and updating provide an opportunity for countries to strengthen links between their NDCs and national adaptation planning processes to support genuinely climate resilient and low carbon development.

Ricardo’s offer of support

Like most people, here in Ricardo we feel a mixture of frustration and excitement following COP26. Frustration that more progress wasn’t made. But excitement that a signal has been given for the need for more action.
Achieving this will require all hands to the pump. We’ve been centrally involved in the NDC process, since 2014. We have a great deal of expertise and even more enthusiasm. Our company vision is to create a world fit for the future. We want to be part of the solution and we are ready to get going.

Related pages
Climate change
Climate mitigation
Climate adaptation and resilience
Climate finance
Nationally determined contributions (NDCs)
Carbon markets
Measurement, reporting and verification (MRV)
Greenhouse gas inventories

1 I am writing in plain English so am using ‘Country’ as a proxy for ‘Party’ – and in most cases this is appropriate.
2 There are three Decisions that make up the Glasgow Climate Pact – they can be found here. I am referring to the CMA 3 decision.
3 For the full list see