Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Primer on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (#INDCs): Way Forward on Climate Change Negotiations

Primer on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs): Way Forward on Climate Change Negotiations by Pallavee Khanna, Emergent Ventures India Pvt. Ltd. ( EVI )

The conference of parties to the #UNFCCC at their 19th session (COP-19) at Warsaw in November 2013, decided ‘to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions (INDC)’ by reiterating the work done towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2.  In addition, it was also agreed that such contributions have to be communicated well in advance of the 21st session of the COP (i.e. December 2015 in Paris, France) in clear, transparent and understandable manner without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions. (Decision 1/CP.19, paragraph 2(b))[1]

There is no standard definition for INDCs till date. However as per common understanding INDCs are:
Clear, transparent and understandable targets (in line with 20 target) which the parties intend to take up in the coming years keeping their national circumstances and development priorities into consideration.

INDCs are envisaged to eventually become more than just target/numbers and so they should reflect the country’s effort to contribute effectively while pursuing their development agenda and simultaneously develop tangible results. 
As per an article by NDTV (2014)[2]; only when emissions could drop by 40 to 70 % globally between 2010 and 2050, thereafter falling to zero or below by 2100; can we expect to be within 20C window of opportunity. The IPCC report also gives us hope that if we act collectively, urgently and at the global level we can achieve the below 2°C objective ‐ and do so in a manner that promotes sustainable economic growth as well as co‐benefits. Therefore, it must be understood how all submitted INDCs bring us closer to the below 2°C objective.
The rationale for INDCs’ preparation is therefore to:

  •  Identify individual efforts anticipated by each of the parties to avoid the dangerous impacts of climate change.

  • Provide significant indication of the collective efforts anticipated by the international community to address climate change. Hence, assess if the global ambition is in synergy with the requisite 2°C mark for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction. If not, then estimate by how much the parties should collectively increase their efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.Different countries have different national circumstances, which require INDCs to cover these aspects well while deciding on their emission reduction targets. Parties will hence, need to generate and consider various types of information as part of the domestic preparation of their own INDC. It becomes therefore important that Parties are given guidance on what up front information (UFI) needs to be put forward as a part of their INDCs.

The UFI shall be very critical in terms of making INDCs - transparent, understandable and clear. It would help in quantification, analysis and comparison of INDCs keeping individual and global level of ambition into consideration.
Different parties suggest different options for UFI. Therefore, agreeing on the information to be provided within the purview of INDCs will also be a valuable tool for parties themselves to reflect progress and further needs in the process of preparing their INDCs.
Currently, there is an increased impetus towards the idea of INDCs in many international discourses. However, absence of any defined guidelines for preparation of INDCs has lead to floating of a large number of suggestions from different parties on what probably could come under the purview of INDCs.

As stated at the Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe Technical Dialogue on INDC to the 2015 Agreement under the UNFCCC (2014)[1], “the 2015 agreement will be composed of “bones”, including definitions, procedures, rules and mechanisms, etc. and “meat”, which will be the action(s) that each party will undertake to contribute to meeting the objective of the Convention.” As of now, nothing exists on ground. It’s only during the COP in Lima, would the picture become somewhat clear and arbitrary contemplations would become directional. 

Although there is a broad consensus on the need to submit INDCs, the structure of these INDCs is still under discussion and hence delaying the process of submission ahead of COP 21. Some, of the open issues responsible are discussed below:

Open issues prior to the preparation phase

  • Different countries are at different starting point w.r.t their INDC preparation. Some countries are all set to present their INDC in the first quarter of 2015. However, due to the uncertainties that once INDCs are legitimately communicated to the UNFCCC, they may automatically turn into commitments under the 2015 agreement; some countries are not willing to put forward INDCs. On the other hand, there are some countries that are willing to prepare INDCs. However, there is limited time for preparing INDCs that too in a situation where no standard framework/ guidelines are available for preparing INDCs, and hence, acts a laggard for them.

  • Some countries are supporting the view of having standalone mitigation contributions since INDCs would have a primary component of emission reduction reflected in them and some actions like NAMA, LEDs, GHG Inventory, Sectoral emissions projections, the country’s Technology Needs, National Communication etc have already taken place and thus taking lessons from them would fasten up the process of submitting contributions on mitigation. Whereas, another school of thought supports the view of not limiting the scope of contributions to just mitigation and thus including aspects of finance, technology and adaptation and means of implementation in them. Since, information on support from these could serve as important aspects for many of the developing countries.

  • There is a consensus that the contributions should be differentiated by developed and developing parties taking cue from the previous agreements (like Copenhagen, Durban, etc) and based on the principal of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). However, some don’t agree with this due to their concerns over how the level of comparability between the INDCs from developed and developing countries be assessed.

  • Discussions over stakeholder engagement in the process of INDC preparation are taking place. But clarity needs to be gained on who all would be the essential stakeholders (private sector, civil society, think tanks, etc) and how far they would be involved in the process of preparation of INDC.
Open issues during the preparation phase

  • Some parties are of the view to designate altogether a new institution to oversee the INDC preparation (which although would require huge initial investment on providing financial assistance & capacity building exercise but would offer benefit of monitoring of the activities in an easier way due to the streamlined structure of the new institution). Others are of the view to attach the INDC preparation process with the existing institutions so that by just scaling-up the capacities and skill of the existing institutions the process of INDC preparation could be streamlined with the existing processes (NAMA, LEDS etc).
  • There is limited data availability at the national level and finding reliable data is also a challenge. Therefore, due to the short time frame for preparing INDCs, countries do not have the capacity to prepare extensive analysis for the development of scenarios and calculation of emissions reductions and will have to use existing information.
  • A regular submission shall serve as a part of continuous ambition building exercise and serve as a good way of ‘learning by sharing’. However, it might not be possible for some parties to do that depending on their skills or national circumstances. Therefore, concerns over what timeframe (short, medium or long-term timeframes) should be chosen by each party to categorize their INDCs and how regularly would the parties be able to submit their INDCs have to be dealt with.

  • Currently, some support (financial and capacity building) is being provided for preparation & implementation of INDC. However, still there is a lack of coherent international assistance on preparing INDCs.

  • A limited ownership and inter-ministerial cooperation is another critical issue in the preparation of INDCs since not everybody understands/ agrees with the rationale of preparing INDCs.

Open issues post the preparation phase

  • Regarding the MRV, some countries are of the view that since the Convention has made significant advances to streamline MRV over the past few years, so, it may be politically feasible to design MRVs specifically for INDCs. However, some parties supported the view of trying to tailor MRV specifically to INDCs may not necessarily be that useful since INDCs are simply a temporary name for efforts to be undertaken in the context of the 2015 agreement.

  • There exists no clarity on how institutional arrangements and legal frameworks for policy implementation have to be formalized and who shall be assigned its responsibility.

  • There has to be some clarity on the aspects related to the fact that if some contributions are met by the parties then what provisions would exist for further action and update.
Therefore, countries are starting with the preparation of their INDCs facing a high degree of uncertainty, since contributions are nationally determined, intended and without prejudice to their legal nature. Therefore, identifying enabling factors and early lessons gained in the course of defining targets and pledges under the Copenhagen Agreement and in developing elements such as LEDS/LCDS, NAMAs and MRV systems would be very critical at this stage for INDC preparation. Moreover, discussions during COP 20 at Lima are expected to shed some more light on the concept of INDCs and bring more clarity on the design. 

[1]  Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe Technical Dialogue on INDC to the 2015 Agreement under the UNFCCC, July 9-11 2014, Hanoi, Vietnam. Available at:

[2] NDTV, 2014. Time Running Out to Reach Two Degrees Celsius Target: UN Climate Panel. [Online]
Available at:
 Accessed 5 November 2014].