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FEATURE: Shifting from ‘Intended’ to ‘Implemented’ – What’s required for the INDCs?

CDKN has supported the development of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the Paris climate summit, in nine developing countries. Ben Bostock, Helen Picot, Sam Bickersteth and Kiran Sura of CDKN reflect on the strong ambitions of these submissions – and their varying levels of detail, which suggest that some INDCs may be readier for implementation than others.

What are the INDCs?

Over the past year, CDKN has been working with nine countries in supporting preparation of their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which represent each country’s proposed contribution to a global climate agreement to be delivered in Paris this December.

Countries were given license to include information on adaptation and means of implementation in their INDCS alongside mitigation, and in the format of their choosing. Many developing countries took this opportunity to place national development priorities at the heart of their contributions, and to explicitly set out their adaptation and finance needs in their submissions. However, the absence of official guidance around INDCs has led to very different contributions being submitted across the board – therefore it’s challenging to compare them and to understand what they add up to, in total. Perhaps, too, ambiguity around how INDCs will be treated in a final agreement (i.e. what their legal status will be) has caused countries to be conservative with their pledges. As the INDCs stand, preliminary analysis suggests that submitted INDCs will take average global warming far beyond the 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels that countries have previously regarded as the acceptable threshold (many small island developing states and least developed countries are already bearing the brunt of climate change impacts and say even 2 degrees of warming is too much).

The process of preparing INDCs has, itself, been highly valuable. In contrast to the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol, in which only developed (Annex 1) countries were bound to emissions reductions pledges, under the Paris process, all countries are invited to make a contribution, according to their capability. This has allowed developing country governments to voice their plans for low-carbon, climate-resilient growth, and to assert domestic and international statements of political ambition.

It is commendable that some of the lowest emitting, least developed nations are amongst the most ambitious in terms of proportional emissions reductions pledges – especially as many are bringing mitigation targets forward for the very first time. For instance, Ethiopia has set a target to reduce emissions by 64% versus 2030 Business as Usual (BaU) projections. Countries have been able to think about what their next steps may look like in achieving their goals: Ethiopia has outlined areas that will require further research investment, and almost all countries here have detailed mitigation and adaptation priorities, as well as some policies and initiatives which they intend to implement.

CDKN has analysed the ‘implementability’ of the INDCs in the nine countries it has supported, and has concluded:

      • international support is not just a key requisite for future implementation stages, but is a necessary pre-requisite today
      • measurable targets are needed to set out implementation pathways
      • life-saving adaptation policies need significantly greater investment

International support is not just a key requisite for future implementation stages, but is a necessary pre-requisite today

Globally we must make plans for effective implementation now by investing in necessary research and data collection, as well as considering how international support, finance and other mechanisms will be required after Paris.

All the countries CDKN has supported brought forward both unconditional and conditional (dependent on external support) mitigation targets. Some countries went further and quantified these unconditional and conditional targets. The difference between these two figures is stark – for example, the majority of The Gambia’s emissions contribution (10 of 12 sectoral initiatives outlined) requires technical and and/or financial support in order to be implemented. However, given sufficient international support, its conditional contribution pledge is substantial; a 45.4% reduction by 2030 against BaU projections. Similarly, Peru, Colombia and Bangladesh all pledged an extra 10% reduction in emissions versus 2030 BaU, beyond their unconditional contributions.

Many countries acknowledged the uncertainty in quantifying the level of international assistance required for the various initiatives they outline in their INDCs. Ethiopia noted the need for further research to “…quantify the required international financial, technological and capacity building support” – highlighting this prerequisite stage of analysis – which itself requires support – before further support can be leveraged for implementation. While Uganda estimated that 70% of the costs of activities undertaken towards achieving its national target would be expected to originate from international sources, a common theme running parallel across the submissions is that the intended contributions are subject to sufficient (but as yet not estimated) financial and technical support.

Similarly, difficulties in measuring emissions stemming from the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) sector are apparent – the implications of which are that countries are either under or overestimating their contributions. Bangladesh (as well as other INDCs such as Honduras, outside of our analysis) explicitly express that the difficulty in measuring emissions from this sector was what prevented this data from being collected. The significance of this is made apparent by Peru, Colombia and Kenya– who were able to quantify this in detail – as land use emissions were found to account for approximately half of each country’s total emissions (and 75% in the case of Kenya). Assistance in quantifying this as well could therefore be a crucial prerequisite for first determining the level of assistance which may be needed in contributing to sectoral emissions change, and then providing said assistance.

The key lesson here is that multiple levels of support will be required before these INDCs can be implemented – in addition to the continuing support that will then be required if these contributions will have to be reviewed and revised in the future. Simply providing assistance to countries to help them quantify how much support they will need, sector by sector, could be a crucial first step.

Measurable targets are needed to set out implementation pathways

In recognition of the fact that collectively, the INDCs do not put us on a path to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius, and more needs to be done, the concept of a ‘review and ratchet-up’ mechanism is gaining traction with some countries in the global climate talks. This is the concept that countries would progressively increase their levels of ambition after a certain review period. The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and The Gambia provide projections or targets for both 2025 and 2030. This is useful for considering how big a ‘ratchet’ would be needed on a five yearly-basis – although an enabling policy environment and South-South lesson sharing will still be required for this to be successful.

Many countries have provided relatively robust indicators for measuring progress against business as usual. For instance, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Uganda and Bangladesh have detailed the proportional emissions reductions of each of their industry sectors versus a BaU scenario. In addition, Colombia has been developing a system for monitoring, reporting and verifying national emissions reductions. Transport and energy are the most common sectors being targeted across the board – although smart agriculture reforms in Ethiopia and The Gambia will look to account for over one third of each country’s total INDC pledge.

Life-saving adaptation policies need significantly greater investment

In expectation of disbursements of climate finance to be agreed at the Paris summit, common areas of priority include the setting up of National Adaptation Programmes, as well as developing Disaster Risk Management Plans using both initiative-driven and sector-driven approaches. The Gambia outlines the importance of continually reassessing adaptation requirements as they change in the future. Indeed, adaptation costs are likely to continue to rise exponentially if mitigation efforts are not sufficient in limiting global warming. This has significant implications for vulnerable nations such as the RMI, whose INDC notes that whilst its current target is unconditional, international support may well be needed if adaptation costs rise due to changing circumstances.

As such, building adaptive capacity is rightly noted as key to these INDCs. The world will have to live with the effects of climate change, even if emissions are curbed. Many countries will want to send the message that for them, this is a very real concern already.

CDKN’s Chief Executive, Sam Bickersteth, highlighted the need for positive links between sustainable development and adaptation action in a recent seminar convened by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). India’s INDC directly links the national plans on disaster risk reduction to the climate adaptation agenda, which is an issue which has been highlighted during this summer’s heatwaves  – for example in the South Asian subcontinent. CDKN’s work with cities such as Ahmedabad has shown how good analysis, economic investment and political leadership can lead to adaptation plans which can save lives. SEI’s theme for the event ‘from Climate Knowledge to Climate Action’ underpinned the growing recognition that research,  technical capacity and effective knowledge sharing and outreach is necessary for scaling up adaptation action.

Ambitious, robust, and well-rounded INDCs have been created by these countries, through a national process which has helped them to start building their pathways towards climate compatible development. The question now is: Can the developed world provide the appropriate support to open the gates to these pathways?As such, building adaptive capacity is rightly noted as key to these INDCs. The world will have to live with the effects of climate change, even if emissions are curbed. Many countries will want to send the message that for them, this is a very real concern already.All countries examined outline their adaptation priorities as part of their INDC. However, as it stands, the pool of available funds dedicated specifically to adaptation is currently relatively small – leaving a gap between what is needed and what can be implemented.


Further resources

Climate Action Tracker – an up-to-date, science based assessment of individual national pledges, targets and INDCs and currently implemented policy towards greenhouse gas emission reduction – 

Sam Unsworth and Papa Momodou Jack also contributed analysis to this article.

UNFCCC Synthesis report – examines the aggregate effect of the intended nationally determined contributions

Low Carbon Economy Index – an analysis of the level of ambition within the INDCs of the G20 –



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