As of mid November 2015, 180 countries and counting have researched, developed and submitted an individual offer (known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, or INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in advance of the upcoming Paris climate agreement. In a marked contrast to the Copenhagen climate meetings in 2009 when just 27 countries had developed climate action plans heading into the negotiations, all but a small fraction of the world’s nations have assessed their domestic capacities to address climate change and have designed plans for tackling the issue, marking the first time in history that countries have near universally agreed to not only participate in the negotiations but to each shoulder a part of the burden of addressing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and building resiliency to protect agains the impacts of climate change.
There are few official requirements for INDCs. Suggested guidelines for the preparation of country offers have recently emerged, but much is still left undefined. There is no hard deadline for the submission of INDCs, and no absolute requirement that an INDC be submitted.
However, as part of the Paris process, countries have submitted offers that address their own domesticGHG emissions as a contribution to a post 2020 global deal on climate change. Some INDCs may also address adaptation to climate change.
Analysis of the aggregate effect of these individual offers finds that they will help the world avoid an estimated 1˚C of otherwise expected warming, which is a substantial start towards putting the world on trajectory towards preventing catastrophic climate change, but that further action will be needed to fully move the global economy onto the so-called “2° pathway,” i.e. the most efficient pathway for limiting global warming to 2°C. However, if undertaken, these offers would move the global economy significantly closer to that pathway. It is possible that the final round of negotiations in Paris could result in some improvement in final offers. In addition, potential action on other elements of the agreement, such as mobilization of finance for renewable energy infrastructure in developing countries, may bring the final agreement even closer to the most efficient 2° pathway.
Developed countries have each filed an offer to reduce their overall domestic emissions, specifying a goal for 2025 or 2030. Such offers/pledges are economy–wide and tally up reductions across all sectors. A few countries have put forward offers that cover only a subset of gases and sectors of their economy, emissions from changes in the forestry and land-use sector being the mostly likely to be left out.
The majority of developing countries have, as of mid-November, also submitted offers that addresses their domestic GHG emissions. However, offers from developing countries were generally not expected to come in the form of an absolute reduction in current emissions, as per-capita emissions of GHG in the developing world (including China and India) are generally only a fraction of the per-capita emissions of industrialized countries. Rather INDCs from developing countries come in a variety of forms, many as offers to deviate from the business-as-usual pathway, supported by a set of policies that would set economic growth on a low-emission pathway. SuchINDCs may include commitments to cap overall emissions by a specific date, or the ‘peaking’ date (China has issued an INDC in this form). Alternatively some developing countries have pledged to reduce the emissions intensity of their economic activity or energy consumption, such that overall emissions could still rise, but at a much lower rate while economic growth continues. Another potential alternative form in which developing countries have delivered their INDCs is an offer to adopt a renewable energy goal, effectively reducing the growth of emissions from new fossil-fueled power plants (India has issued an INDC partly in this form).
Some developing countries have submitted a two-part INDC, with the first part listing unilateral actions the country would undertake to address GHG emissions, and the second part identifying additional actions that could be undertaken if other countries provided support, usually in the form of financing.
A small number of countries, including small–island developing states and some nations classified as Least Developed Countries, may not be required to submit an INDC.
Requirements and Legal Background
Four key decisions set the landscape for INDCs:
- The establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Rio in 1992 (see more)
- Decision 1 of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP) meeting in Durban in 2011 (see more)
- Decision 1 of the COP meeting in Warsaw in 2013 (see more)
- Decision 1 of the COP in Lima meeting late in 2014 (see more)
The concept of country offers (INDCs) and the invitation to countries to submit offers was first formally established by a UNFCCC COP decision reached in Warsaw, meeting late in 2013. In the Warsaw decision parties were invited to develop and submit an “intended nationally determined contribution…in the context of adopting a protocol…applicable to all Parties …towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2.”
The objective of the Convention set out in Article 2 is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations to avoid dangerous climate change. The agreement to establish a new protocol (i.e. a new climate agreement under theUNFCCC) applicable to all Parties, was made at the Durban round of negotiations late in 2011.
The Lima round of negotiations late in 2014 reached an agreement that INDCs would “represent a progression beyond the current undertaking of that Party.” In addition the Lima decision offered non-mandatory guidelines for accounting and methodology; suggested that countries explain why their offer is fair and why it constitutes a contribution; and invited countries to consider including adaptation as part of their INDC. In paragraph 16 of theLima decision, the secretariat also commited to publishing all INDCs to the UNFCCC website as they are submitted and agreed to prepare a synthesis report by 1 November 2015 on the aggregate effect of the individual INDC contributions that parties will communicate to the Secretariat by 1 October 2015.
Italics have been added to identify relevant passages.
Rio 1992: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
Durban 2011 (Decision 1/CP.17)
Paragraphs 2 and 4
2. Also decides to launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties, through a subsidiary body under the Convention hereby established and to be known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action;
4. Decides that the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action shall complete its work as early as possible but no later than 2015 in order to adopt this protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force at the twenty first session of the Conference of the Parties and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020;
Doha 2012 (Decision 2/CP.18)
Decides that the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action will consider elements for a draft negotiating text no later than at its session to be held in conjunction with the twentieth session of the Conference of the Parties, due to be held from Wednesday, 3 December to Sunday, 14 December 2014, with a view to making available a negotiating text before May 2015.
Warsaw 2013 (Decision 1/CP.19)
Decides, in the context of its determination to adopt a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties at its twenty-first session (December 2015) and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020:
(a) To request the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action to further elaborate, beginning at its first session in 2014, elements for a draft negotiating text, taking into consideration its work, including, inter alia, on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity-building and transparency of action and support;
(b) To invite all Parties to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions, in the context of adopting a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Partiestowards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2 and to communicate them well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions;
(c) To request the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action to identify, by the twentieth session of the Conference of the Parties, the information that Parties will provide when putting forward their contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions, referred to in paragraph 2(b) above;
Lima 2014 (Decision 1/CP.20)
Paragraphs 8 -14; paragraph 16
8. Notes that the arrangements specified in this decision in relation to intended nationally determined contributions are without prejudice to the legal nature and content of the intended nationally determined contributions of Parties or to the content of the protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties;
9. Reiterates its invitation to each Party to communicate to the secretariat its intended nationally determined contribution towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2;
10. Agrees that each Party’s intended nationally determined contribution towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2 will represent a progression beyond the current undertaking of that Party;
11. Also agrees that the least developed countries and small island developing States may communicate information on strategies, plans and actions for low greenhouse gas emission development reflecting their special circumstances in the context of intended nationally determined contributions;
12. Invites all Parties to consider communicating their undertakings in adaptation planning or consider including an adaptation component in their intended nationally determined contributions;
13. Reiterates its invitation to all Parties to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended nationally determined contributions;
14. Agrees that the information to be provided by Parties communicating their intended nationally determined contributions, in order to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding, may include, as appropriate, inter alia,quantifiable information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year), time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and, as appropriate, removals, and how the Party considers that its intended nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2;
16. Requests the secretariat to:
(a) Publish on the UNFCCC website the intended nationally determined contributions as communicated;
(b) Prepare by 1 November 2015 a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the intended nationally determined contributions communicated by Parties by 1 October 2015;