The untold stories of national climate pledges

October 28, 2021

There is growing awareness of the importance of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are central to achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

UNDP Peru/Monica Suarez Galindo

When the landmark Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, very little was known about climate pledges – Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs – that are central to achieving its goal of preventing dangerous global warming.

At that time, the significance of NDCs had not even fully entered the consciousness of the climate community – much less the broader development community in which we work.

And we must admit, it was a tough sell back then.

Global momentum and public awareness of the importance of NDCs have shifted over time, and our work at UNDP has hopefully contributed to that. In 2019, UNDP’s Administrator announced the Climate Promise – an ambitious commitment to support at least 100 countries to prepared enhanced “second-generation” NDCs. Ultimately, 120 countries and 35 partners became part of the Climate Promise, making it the world’s largest offer of its kind.

Recent times have seen many well-prepared reports sounding the alarm on the urgent need to slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and noting that current climate pledges are still insufficient to keep the average global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Those reports concern us, too. We have young children. We understand what is at stake.

At the same time, we felt there was an untold story about the NDCs and climate ambition that we were seeing on the ground. Through the Climate Promise, we work hand-in-hand with governments and partners to support the NDC revision process and help lay the critical foundations for NDC implementation. We understand the challenges and opportunities being faced in developing countries and we wanted to recognize their leadership.

The 2021 NDC Global Outlook Report, The State of Climate Ambition, is our contribution to the global discourse. It draws upon the comprehensive knowledge on NDCs that UNDP has built through the Climate Promise, as well as the broader development insights and expertise of our Global Policy Network.

Beyond assessing how the global map of climate ambition has changed since 2019, we wanted to highlight two important untold stories of NDCs in the new report and how these underpin ambition.

The first is a story of growing inclusion. The second is of improving quality.

Story 1: Growing inclusion

Many developing countries prepared their first NDCs in very short timeframes, limiting their ability to appropriately engage key stakeholders. In our 2019 NDC Outlook report, we noted that most governments were planning more extensive and targeted stakeholder engagement for the NDC revision process. In 2021, we were curious to see whether such outreach efforts paid off with greater ambition.

To answer this question, we analysed 67 second-generation NDCs submitted by Climate Promise countries to understand the relationship between their level of ambition and the extent of participatory efforts undertaken during the revision process (Figure 1).

We found that many countries which systematically targeted and engaged a wide range of stakeholder groups, and/or encouraged greater societal ownership and inclusivity during the NDC revision process, were able to capitalize on these efforts to drive greater climate ambition.

Inclusivity and whole-of-society approaches was a key area of support under the Climate Promise. Through the Promise, more than 110,000 people were reached as part of 1,260 stakeholder consultations on the NDC revision process, and we have seen significant improvements in gender and youth considerations: 96 percent of second-generation NDCs supported under the Climate Promise include gender/women references (compared to 46 percent of first-generation NDCs) and 80 percent include broad considerations of youth/children (compared to 40 percent of first-generation NDCs).

Story 2: Improving quality of climate pledges

Our second story is about how the overall quality of NDCs has improved and how that can determine the likelihood of their implementation.

In 2016, developing countries indicated that a lack of technical capacities had hindered preparation of the first NDCs. This concern was reflected in the 2019 NDC Outlook report, where the most cited reason for revising the NDC (identified by 92 percent of 133 developing countries responding to a UNDP survey) was to strengthen data and evidence.

For the 2021 report, we applied criteria from UNDP’s NDC Quality Checklist to assess submitted NDCs supported under the Climate Promise against three dimensions of quality: robustness, feasibility, and ownership and inclusiveness. Each NDC was scored based on the percentage of associated criteria that was met. We found that 76 percent of NDCs scored above average on robustness criteria and around 75 percent scored above average on ownership and inclusiveness, but only 27 percent scored above average on feasibility (Figure 2).

This demonstrates that while developing countries have made great strides in improving NDC robustness and inclusivity, there is an important need to strengthen elements that can ensure feasible implementation – namely attracting finance and technology to deliver on NDC targets.

We also learned that NDCs with more characteristics of robustness (that is, more clarity, transparency, understanding of mitigation and/or adaptation components, and stronger alignment with development plans and the SDGs) tended to also have more feasibility characteristics, which might enable them to implement the NDC more effectively.


For us, NDCs are more than a technical document about cutting GHG emissions. We see them as a blueprint for sustainable development and green recovery; an essential tool for generating a whole-of-society response to combat the greatest crisis facing humanity. NDC quality helps determine a country’s ability to deliver on their climate commitments.

These are some of our untold stories of the NDCs. We hope that with the release of The State of Climate Ambition report, there is new appreciation for the potential of NDCs as a springboard for sustainable development.   

Editor’s note: If you found this piece useful, explore the data on our State of Climate Ambition report now.