Skip navigation
workers at a geothermal power plant in Kenya

Nationally determined contributions (NDCs)

Start reading

Nationally determined contributions (NDCs)

The COVID-19 recovery offers a window to develop and implement climate action plans that integrate planning on energy, health and sustainable development towards a more sustainable and resilient recovery. SEI research comprises tools for and insights into such synergistic planning, and highlights how policies on fossil fuel production, air pollution and industry transition can be harnessed for more ambitious and effective NDCs.

Published on 24 September 2020


National climate action plans, known as nationally determined contributions or NDCs, are at the heart of the Paris Agreement. In this treaty, countries committed to limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels,” and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. NDCs embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The Paris Agreement requests countries to submit updated NDCs every five years to the UNFCCC secretariat. They are encouraged to submit NDCs that reflect increased ambition, whether in terms of strengthened targets, accelerated timelines, or a broader scope covering additional sectors or greenhouse gases. The idea is that over time, the aggregate reductions in emissions will put the world on a Paris-compatible pathway.

A historic opportunity to reduce climate risk

While the world is experiencing a global health crisis unlike any other in recent years, the climate crisis has not ground to a standstill. Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic may well determine whether we will meet humanity’s major climate change and sustainable development challenges.

SEI’s 2020–24 Strategy sets out “reduced climate risk” as one of the three areas we will focus our work on in this strategy period. As such, our research aims to support an ambitious implementation of the NDCs under the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda.

Aligning climate and development planning

Much of our NDC work concentrates on ensuring that countries are put in a position to plan for climate, energy, and sustainable development in an integrated manner. The cornerstone is our Initiative on Integrated Climate and Development Planning that aims to enable low- and middle-income countries to integrate planning to achieve NDCs and Sustainable Development Goals, leveraging technological and methodological advances.

Tools for energy planning

Jointly addressing climate change and air pollution

The COVID-19 pandemic has cast a spotlight on the risks to human health posed by air pollution. It has also been argued that “the air pollution case against fossil fuels is still the best case.” 

SEI is a recognized leader in helping countries integrate air quality and climate change strategies. Working with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, we are supporting more than 20 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to identify actions that can improve air quality, human health and mitigate climate change. 

Overcoming incoherence on climate and development policies

Coherence between climate and development policies helps make progress both on NDCs and on the Sustainable Development Goals.

But incoherence between climate and development policies remains a real and widespread challenge in many countries.

Tool for analysing connections between NDCs and SDGs

Integrating plans to wind down fossil fuels into NDCs

The UN Secretary General has urged nations to put the transition away from fossil fuels at the core of their COVID-19 recovery.

But the Energy Policy Tracker in which SEI is a partner shows that the greater part of public money committed to the energy sector through COVID-19 recovery packages actually goes to supporting fossil fuels rather than clean energy.

Our work shows what specific measures countries can take to wind down fossil fuel production, and how these can be integrated into NDCs and development strategies. It also focuses on how to manage the fossil-fuel wind-down equitably.

Harnessing industry transition for national climate action plans

Emitting 30% of global CO2 emissions, industry is a crucial player when it comes to mitigating climate change.

But so far, most NDCs are lacking details on how countries plan to cut emissions from industry.

Designing effective NDCs

Countries must submit more ambitious climate plans under the Paris Agreement in 2020. Any further delay in combatting climate change makes it almost impossible to limit average global warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

But even while ambition is key, it is not enough: NDCs need to also be coherent, effective, and implementable.

In focus: Achieving a just transition to low carbon economies

SEI Experts

2018 portrait of Charlie Heaps
Charles Heaps

Energy Modeling Program Director


Richard J.T. Klein
Richard J. T. Klein

Team Leader: International Climate Risk and Adaptation; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna

Reader / Research Leader

SEI York

Chris Malley

Senior Research Fellow

SEI York

Eleni Michalopoulou

Research Associate

SEI York

Cassilde Muhoza

Research Fellow

SEI Africa

Philip Osano
Philip Osano

Centre Director

SEI Africa

Zoha Shawoo
Zoha Shawoo



Cleo Verkuijl
Cleo Verkuijl



2018 portrait of jason veysey
Jason Veysey

Senior Scientist


Design and development by Soapbox.