Keeping our climate promise

September 18, 2020


In the lead up to the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, UNDP made a commitment to support at least 100 countries to improve the pledges that they made under the historic 2016 Paris Agreement. Our Climate Promise was made in recognition of findings that found nearly half of the world was planning to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but 71 countries were still undecided on the level of their commitment.

We set out to do everything we could, as 2020 represented the first opportunity for countries to formally revisit and enhance their pledges, which are called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. Our goal was simple; we wanted to ensure that any country wishing to increase their climate ambition was able to do so. 

This commitment was rooted in our robust history of supporting countries to design and implement the first generation of NDCs, most notably through the NDC Support Programme, as well as our portfolio across energy, finance, governance, disaster risk reduction, health, nature-based solutions, adaptation and resilience, youth and gender. We were clear on what needed to be done. UNDP responded to countries quickly to define and deploy needed support.

Six months in, UNDP had formal agreements with 114 countries, making it the world’s largest offer of support on NDC enhancement.

Little did we know that in 2020 we would be facing a global health pandemic that put the world in lockdown for several months and result in the international climate negotiations being postponed for one year. Although some activities planned under the Climate Promise have been delayed, most governments are still committed to submitting new NDCs--even as they also combat the COVID-19 crisis--and 11 have already done so. Around two-thirds of Climate Promise countries have delayed their NDC submission timelines, but for most only by a few months. 

Despite the delays, the evidence suggests that this does not mean that countries are slowing in their climate crisis responses. More than half of climate promise countries are indicating their intention to make bigger greenhouse gas cuts. Some are taking time to adjust and reevaluate, leveraging the revision process to help design, organize finance and roll out green recoveries. We have seen countries such as Nigeria, Tunisia, Serbia, Chile and Indonesia promote closer linkages between economic recovery and climate ambition with almost a third of countries reporting on linking the Climate Promise support to COVID-19 response and recovery.

We have learned that we cannot do this without partners—we are now working with 25—and have tailored support to governments’ needs and contexts.

As the five-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement approaches this December, we are reminded of the stakes of the climate crisis. The recently published WMO report, United in Science, stressed that short-term lockdowns triggered by COVID-19 will not help us meet the Paris Agreement goals, and we will require ambitious, accelerated, long-term green transitions to regenerate our planet.

What better time to chart this new path and invest in this green transition than in response to a global health and emerging economic crisis?  While COVID-19 did present a more complicated and difficult pathway for delivering on the Climate Promise, it has also provided us with an opportunity which we cannot let slip.

NDCs are more important than ever. This is a hard moment, but we are at the turning point for our future. It is a now or never moment for us to act.