Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)

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Last updated December 1, 2015

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, are offers that countries will put on the table ahead of the Paris climate talks, outlining actions they are willing and able to take to address climate change. They are important building blocks for the final agreement. Find out more about what they are, and who is offering what, here.

Table of Contents


Introduction

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 domestic GHG 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. Such INDCs 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 the UNFCCC) 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 the Lima 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.


Appendix

Italics have been added to identify relevant passages. 

Rio 1992: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Article 2

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)

Paragraph 9

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)

Paragraph 2

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 Parties towards 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

Key Terms

ADP

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is a body created by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Its mission is to "develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties, which is to be completed no later than 2015 in order for it to be adopted at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020." 

African Group of Negotiators

The African Group of Negotiators (AGN) represents African nations in the United Nations system. At the 20th Conference of Parties, the AGN associated itself with the G77 and China and has historically had strong ties with the positions of that negotiating bloc.  

 

AILAC

The Independent Association of Latin American and the Caribbean (AILAC) represents six regionally proximate countries with similar positions on climate change. AILAC is officially comprised of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, and Peru. 

ALBA

ALBA, formally known as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, is a negotiating bloc with 11 member countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. It is associated with socialist and social democratic governments and operates under a vision of a Hispanic system of solidarity and mutual aid.

 
Annex I

A term used to refer to industrialized countries that were members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero in 1992, and countries with economies in transition. Examples of Annex I countries include the United States, member states of the European Union, and the Russian Federation.

AOSIS

The Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) represents 44 island and low-lying coastal countries with similar development challenges and environmental concerns. AOSIS lobbies and negotiates for small island developing states (SIDS) in the United Nations system. Climate change is a fundamental threat to many SIDS, and AOSIS has called for major global  emissions reductions at every international climate negotiation. Some members include Cuba, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Marshall Islands, and Maldives.

AR5

The 5th Asssessment Report (AR5) is an extensive document of the future threats and current impacts of climate change, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 and 2014. 

ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) represents ten member states in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. ASEAN has a special working group on climate change that focuses on addressing climate change in the global community.

BASIC Group

The BASIC group consists of Brazil, South Africa, India, and China. These four newly industrialized countries walked out of the Copenhagen climate summit, and often argue for equitable development and consideration of common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities (CBDR-RC). There is a high level of overlap between BASIC and BRICS nations.

 
BRICS Group

Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa make up the BRICS nations. These five major emerging national economies play a significant role in global negotiations and represent around 40% of the global population. There is a high level of overlap between BASIC and BRICS nations.

 
CACAM Group

Central Asia, Caucasus, Albania, and Moldova (CACAM) have formed a negotiating group for United Nations proceedings.

Cartagena Dialogue

The Cartagena Dialogue is an informal alliance of around 40 developed and developing countries party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. The dialogue meets outside of the formal negotiations to discuss progressive climate objectives.

 
CBDR-RC

A guiding principle as well as a source of contention in the UN climate negotiations, Common but Differentiated Responsbilities and Capabilities (CBDR–RC) takes account of a country's historic contributions to climate change, as well as its ability to contribute to a global response.

Climate Finance

Mechanisms established to help fund countries in their efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

COP15

The 15th Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Copenhagen, Denmark.

COP17

The official and commonly used acronym for the 17th Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17), held in Durban at the end of 2011. At COP17, countries – including the United States, China and India – agreed to reach a legally binding treaty to address climate change post–2020, by 2015.

COP20

The 20th Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Lima, Peru. At COP20, the draft text for the Paris Agreement was produced, including proposed language for a long term goal.

COP21

A common acronym for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is being held in Paris in November and December of 2015. 

Copenhagen

Capital city of Denmark and host of the 15th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2009.  

Copenhagen Accord

The result of the 15th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The accord included a long-term goal of limiting warming to no more than 2˚C above pre–industrial levels, but excluded practical terms for achieving this goal.

Durban Platform

A common label applied to the deal reached at the 17th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Durban at the end of 2011. Countries – including the United States, China and India – agreed to reach a legally binding treaty to address climate change post–2020, by 2015.

EIG

Formed in 2000, the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) is made up of Mexico, Liechtenstein, Monaco, South Korea, and Switzerland. These nations formed this group because they did not feel represented by any groups that arose out of the 4th Conference of Parties (COP4) in 1998.

 
European Union (EU) Group

The European Union (EU) consists of 28 member states, and meets privately to develop unified negotiating positions. The European Commission presidency is rotated between members every six months, and the president is responsible for speaking for the EU and all member nations. The EU can be itself a party to the climate convention or to other organizations, but generally does not have a separate vote from its members.

 
G77

The Group of 77 (G77) is the largest group of developing countries participating in the Paris climate talks. This group is very diverse and represents a broad variety of interests and positions. Some notable members of the G77 include Brazil, China, Mexico, South Korea, Chile, India, and Saudi Arabia.

GCF

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a fund set up through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the intent to raise money from the developed world to help developing countries to reduce emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change. 

GHG

A greenhouse gas (GHG) traps heat in the atmosphere, which leads to global warming. Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (NO) are three common greenhouse gases.  Most greenhouse gasses are addressed by the UNFCCC, but a small handful of fluorinated GHG (aka F-gases) are currently addressed by the Montreal Protocol which seeks to manage a different issue, ozone depletion.

INDC

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are outlines of the actions that countries intend to take to address climate change, submitted ahead of the Paris negotiations. 

International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI)

An initiative advanced by Norway to help establish a global, binding, long-term post-2012 regime to limit global temperature rise to below 2°C. It contributes to multilateral and bilateral initiatives including the Brazilian Amazon Fund, Congo Basin Forest Fund, Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and Forest Investment Program.

IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to scientifically assess and communicate the risks and challenges posed by climate change. 

Kyoto Protocol

An international climate agreement that commits countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions toward established, legally binding targets, linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was adopted in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and came into force in February 2005. 

League of Arab States

The League of Arab States represents 21 independent Arab states in northern and northeastern Africa and southwest Asia. The League of Arab States was founded by Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, although Syria is currently suspended.

Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

Forty-eight countries are categorized as least developed countries (LDCs) by the United Nations. LDCs have been active as a negotiating bloc in the climate change talks in recent years, and often advocate for adaptation financing.

 
Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) Group

The Like Minded Group of Developing Countries (LMDC) is a new negotiating bloc that represents over 50% of the global population. The LMDCs, which include Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and India, indicated during the 20th Conference of Parties that common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities (CBDR-RC) would be a critical issue during the negotiating process. Adaptation financing and historical responsibility are two common negotiating points for the LMDCs. The LMDCs also often advocate for the maintenance of the differentiation between developed and developing countries (Annex 1 and Annex 2, in UN parlance).

 
Lima

Capital city of Peru and host of the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Long-Term Goal (LTG)

A long-range goal that would help orient and guide global activity to avert catastrophic climate change. The shape and nature of this goal is still being determined, but may form a key piece of the Paris agreement.

Loss and Damage

A term used to describe climate impacts that occur when the limits of adaptation are reached. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has developed a work programme on loss and damage to help address the issue, particularly for the developing countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

LTG

A long-term goal (LTG) that would help orient and guide global activity to avert catastrophic climate change. The shape and nature of this goal is still being determined, but may form a key piece of the Paris agreement.

LULUCF

A greenhouse gas inventory sector that covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from direct human-induced land use, land-use change and forestry activities.

Non–Annex I

Mostly developing countries, many of which are recognized as being at greater risk from the impacts of cliamte change or whose economies are disproportionately reliant on fossil fuel production. Examples of non–Annex I countries include Angola, Bangladesh and Fiji.  

OPEC

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is an intergovernmental organization that often states positions on international negotiations. Twelve countries currently belong to OPEC, which was founded by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. OPEC has taken a strong position against long-term goals that mandate shifts away from fossil fuels.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

Thirty-four member countries and the European Commission take part in the work of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD is dedicated to global development and understanding economic, social, and environmental change. Notable members include Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

 
Pacific Alliance

The Pacific Alliance is a Latin American trading bloc consisting of Chile, Columbia, Mexico, and Peru. They have collectively called for concrete measures toward a global agreement on climate change.

Paris Agreement

A label widely used to refer to the international climate agreement countries have committed to creating before the end of the talks being held in Paris in November and December of 2015.

Paris Climate Talks

A commonly used shorthand for the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framewrok Convention on Climate Change, which is being held in Paris in November and December of 2015. 

SICA

The Central American Integration System (SICA) consists of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Belize. As members of the Group of 77, this negotiating bloc aligned itself with the Lima statement from the G77 and China.

South-South Cooperation Fund

A climate finance fund announced by China in September 2014 with the intent to provide greater assistance to developing countries in tackling climate change. 

Umbrella Group

The Umbrella Group is an informal group made up of non-EU developed countries. Its formation occurred following the Kyoto Protocol adaptation, and its non-codified member list usually includes Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Norway, Russia, Ukraine, and the United States.

 
UNDP

The United Nations Development Programme works with 170 countries around the world to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality and exclusion. 

 

UNFCCC

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a near-universal climate treaty established at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.