Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)

Download the INDC factsheet here.

At COP 19, held in Warsaw in November 2013, Parties to the UNFCCC decided (Decision 1/CP.19) ‘to invite all Parties to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions, in the context of adopting a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2 and to communicate them well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions’. This decision was reiterated at COP 20, held in Lima 2014 (1/CP.20, ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’). Parties also agreed in Lima that INDCs towards achieving the objective of the Convention should represent a progression beyond current mitigation efforts and prevent backsliding.

INDCs already submitted to the UNFCCC can be found on the UNFCCC INDC Portal.

INDC types and headline numbers

INDCs shall make it possible to track progress and achieve a collective ambition level sufficient to limit global warming to below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels. To this end INDCs shall comprise a mitigation goal which represents a progression beyond current undertakings of the Party. That goal needs to be transformed into an eventually legally binding mitigation commitment under the 2015 agreement, and must be transparent, quantifiable, comparable, verifiable and ambitious. Once this transformation has taken place the contributions are not ‘intended’ anymore.

At the same time individual INDCs shall reflect equity according to the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capacities (CBDR+RC) principle. In this context it was agreed in Lima that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) do not need to prepare a mitigation goal, but that they may communicate information on strategies, plans and actions for low greenhouse gas emission development reflecting their special circumstances. The reasoning why an INDC is ambitious and equitable shall further take account of evolving capacities and responsibilities, considering that past, present and future emissions are relevant.

INDCs shall reflect national circumstances and, hence, are expected to be of many different types. As agreed at COP 20, held in Lima in December 2014, Parties may also consider communicating their undertakings in adaptation planning or consider including an adaptation component in their INDC (1/CP.20, ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’). Indeed, adaptation is a pre-condition in some countries to meaningful mitigation. Conversely, mitigation is a pre-condition at global level to possible adaptation, because adaptation in a world beyond 2°C warming is increasingly difficult. Either way, ambitious headline numbers on mitigation goals are essential to be able to aggregate national efforts and track progress towards domestic goals as well as the global below 2°C objective. Adaptation may add information with importance at the national level and can help to reflect national circumstances. It has been further discussed whether INDCs may also address other important elements of the negotiations such as finance, technology and capacity building.

Different countries start from different initial situations, development stages, degrees of urbanisation, industrial development stages, degrees of technological maturity, degrees of market development, domestic financing capacities etc. Countries thus need to transform their economies under very different conditions and at different phases of growth cycles. Different types of INDCs will therefore be appropriate.

INDCs can include:

  • An absolute, economy-wide emissions target which defines until when (target year or period) a country will emit not more than a certain amount of GHG emissions. These mitigation goals are most straightforward and can be best understood and aggregated internationally.
  • A deviation from a BAU scenario which defines by how much, and by when, a country will undercut a scenario of emissions growth projected into the future. This mitigation goal requires a transparent approach and basic assumptions on the BAU scenario based on projections of GDP and emissions. As such projections are uncertain it is also more difficult to aggregate up-front the actual emissions and emissions reductions in a target year or period.
  • An intensity target which defines target GHG emissions per unit GDP (or capita). This requires transparent methodologies to measure GDP and GDP growth. The absolute quantity of GHG emissions in the target year or period depends on actual economic growth; this makes an international aggregation of emissions reductions difficult. On the one hand intensity targets can reflect evolving economic capacities and responsibilities – on the other hand an intensity target puts extra stress on economies in bust cycles as emissions sources tend to continue to emit even when economic output is shrinking. Considering different initial situations and conditions of transformation, intensity targets can make mitigation efforts and ambition comparable as the emissions reductions are relative to the different and evolving capacities and responsibilities.
  • A set of policies and actions which measure and quantify emissions reduction impacts. This, however, is often methodologically difficult and therefore requires particularly transparent guidelines to project emissions in a target year or period and to quantify the emissions reductions attributable to policies and actions.

One particular aspect of INDCs and the actions to implement them is the sustainability of the emissions reductions achieved. For that reason target periods are sometimes referred to in order to track progress. Mitigation actions must transform patterns of production and consumption and shift them onto long-term sustainable development paths. Models capturing how such transformational change can be achieved and indicators which can track such change are yet to be developed and understood in order to be MRV’ed.

Upfront Information (UFI)

Upfront Information shall make INDCs transparent, understandable and clear in order to be able to quantify and compare INDCs, add them up internationally and provide the information basis for analysis. At COP 20 in December 2014 in Lima Parties decided that the information Parties communicate together with their INDC may include (as appropriate), inter alia (see 1/CP.20, para. 14):

  • quantifiable information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year),
  • time frames and/or periods for implementation,
  • scope and coverage,
  • planning processes,
  • assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and, as appropriate, removals, and
  • how the Party considers that its intended nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious, in light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2.

In addition, it is likely that further information will be required according to the specific type of INDC submitted:

Quantified Absolute Target Deviation from Business-As-Usual Intensity Target Set of Policies and Measures
  • Projections of emissions
  • Projected emissions in BAU for target year/period
  • Projected GDP in target year/period
  • Methodology to project BAU
  • GDP in base year
  • Methodology to measure GDP/GDP growth
  • Description of policy and/or measure
  • Methodology to measure impact of policy and/or measure
  • Methodology to project emissions in target year/period

Before Lima more aspects had been under negotiation than those listed above. See also the former draft text of the ADP Co-Chairs.

Consideration of the aggregate effect of INDCs submitted

When the INDCs are formally submitted and such information on them is available and openly accessible, this will reflect a great effort as well as a serious commitment by the Parties. UFI underpins and provides the starting point for an important process: to consider the INDCs submitted. This process facilitates consideration of both the individual and global level of ambition. It will help to understand whether the aggregate contributions are sufficient to stay below 2°C or whether and by how much the Parties must collectively increase their efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.

The UNFCCC Secretariat will publish the INDCs communicated on the UNFCCC website and will prepare a synthesis report by 1 November 2015 on the aggregate effect of the INDCs communicated by Parties by 1 October 2015. A formal process to analyse and consider the INDCs submitted, i.e. by an open consultation with a wide range of stakeholders or a Q&A session in the context of the UN climate negotiations was not agreed upon in Lima.

How to regularly revisit the collective level of ambition

If the global level of ambition of INDCs is considered insufficient, Parties can raise their ambition in a timely manner to stay on track to meet the below 2°C objective. So far, the UN climate negotiations have not yet touched upon this mechanism in great detail. What many Parties do agree is that such revision of INDCs and the emerging commitments must under all circumstances avoid any backsliding of mitigation goals in terms of replacing absolute targets with relative or intensity ones and of decreasing the aspired amount of emissions reductions.

In order to be as ambitious as possible while ensuring countries’ sustainable prosperity, commitments can increase in a flexible manner in an iterative process over time. Such a process might start with (1) what is BAU as a first step. (2) Then it adds what is doable and what offers opportunities for investments, sustainable development and co-benefits. And finally (3) it pushes for what is technologically possible under certain conditions. Countries can frame this process by defining a target range and attaching conditions to the upper bound of what is technologically possible under certain conditions, depending, for instance, on received international support, domestic economic growth, what other countries do, etc. Therefore, all INDCs should include a unilateral, unconditional component and may include a conditional component, the upper bound, in addition.

In the UN climate negotiations there is a debate of having such a process, how it should be framed and in particular whether there should be a joint target year and if so which.

Robust common MRV and accounting rules

The INDC in combination with a robust rules base should form the mitigation commitment of a country under the 2015 Agreement.

Ex ante the UFI will facilitate the clarity, transparency and understanding of INDCs and thereby provide inter alia the information to understand the possible emissions reductions impacts of an INDC and help establish a process to manage collective mitigation efforts.

Ex post robust common MRV and accounting rules shall enable tracking individual and collective progress towards the below 2°C objective. The challenge will be to integrate the GHG inventory based reporting with the very detailed reporting on mitigation actions and progress towards the committed INDCs, i.e. to integrate top-down with bottom-up approaches. While bottom-up approaches must quantify and account the emissions reductions impact of individual actions, thus making it possible to identify good practice for replication, top-down approaches can track whether total net emissions trends of countries match their mitigation goals and match what is needed collectively at global level.

Currently, methodologies for accounting mitigation goals and policies and actions are under pilot testing.

Reflections on progress made at the eighth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action are summarised in the current negotiating text.


The information on this website is intended to inform and support countries technically to prepare their INDC and to understand the context of the negotiations. It does not claim to reflect accurately all positions in the negotiation process.


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