Scene from COP21, including then-French president François Hollande (front row, second from left) and then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (front row, third from right), Paris, 2015

A scene from the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015. Photo: UNFCCC / Flickr .

The authors of the chapter analyse the political context that led to the creation of NDCs, the hallmark feature of the Paris Agreement.

They argue that NDCs could under-deliver on key climate goods (mitigation, adaptation and finance), but they are necessary because they were the only means likely to achieve buy-in from key negotiating parties.

The authors note that the near-complete discretion that the Paris Agreement provides parties in the form and substance of their NDCs is at odds with both the approach in the climate regime and the corpus of international environmental law more generally.

The authors conclude that the underpinnings of the “deeply odd form of multilaterism” that emerges in the Paris Agreement can be attributed to crude politics and the need to conform specifically to the constitutional order of one single party: the United States.

The authors contend that the “nationally determined” character of parties’ “contributions” towards climate action almost inevitably means veering towards collective inadequacy. The NDCs were designed not to expand the outer limits of national action, but to operate within them, the authors note.

Nevertheless, the authors observe that Article 3’s text on progression and the variety of actions that constitute “efforts” within it provide toeholds for parties to haul themselves onto more ambitious ledges.