CCL Alex Berger - Flickr



von Louis Mourier

Olivia Rumble and Andrew Gilder, Climate Legal, South Africa

COVID-19 has important consequences for the full operationalisation of the Paris Agreement including the fundamentally important mechanism for increased domestic climate change ambition, namely the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted by country Parties to the Agreement. Every effort should be made to maintain the progress that has been achieved in framing national mitigation and adaptation efforts as NDCs, since the Paris Agreement was concluded. Review and updating of African NDCs is at risk including from lack of finances and pandemic restrictions and connectivity challenges which hamper the required specialist input and stakeholder engagement processes. These issues are particularly acute in African Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Despite these factors, the African continent has considerable global strategic value and influence and increases in African climate change ambition, as expressed in NDCs, will likely have cross pollinating effects on other developing countries. The following illustrative approaches might be applied to overcoming the above-mentioned hurdles to African NDC development: - use of developed country Party delegation country-offices and their internet connectivity to facilitate meetings on host country NDCs between local players, including the public and private sectors, civil society and specialist advisors; - development of awareness campaigns of the NDC review process; - support for public gatherings that conform to local pandemic requirements and outdoor venues, and similar actions tailored to local requirements. Whilst seemingly inconsequential in scale, these types of actions of support can have far reaching implications for LDC governments and the wider public. Unquestionably, climate finance also continues to play a dominant role in the region’s NDC review process and in this context, developed countries should be particularly attuned to ensuring that outgoing financial support for their review and implementation remains forthcoming.
Cover 3rd MDPD Paper CCL Alex Berger - Flickr
Cover 3rd MDPD Paper



The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated that urgent and transformational mitigation and adaptation action is needed to restrain increases in global temperatures and to reduce climate change risks. (1) The Paris Agreement is the primary multi-lateral legal mechanism framing the global climate change response, including the so-called “long-term temperature goal” of seeking to limit the average global temperate increase to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit such increase to 1.5°C. (2)


Country Parties to the Paris Agreement have expressed their domestic intentions to address climate change in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs); (3) and, before the end of 2020, new or revised NDCs reflecting increased ambition, were to have been communicated to the UNFCCC. (4) There is a significant distance between the level of ambition in existing NDCs, (5) and that required to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal, commonly referred to as the “emissions gap”. (6) It is for this reason that revisions of the NDCs were intended to kick-start a “decade of ambition” (7), and why 2020 was hailed as a “super year for the environment”. (8)


The advent of COVID-19 has not only resulted in the delay of COP 26 by a year, but has added layers of complexity to addressing the climate challenge. There are particular concerns that the delay will impede NDC-driven greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, with the potential for country Parties citing COVID-related economic contraction to retreat from previously expressed mitigation ambition. The World Bank anticipates a shrinking of the global economy by approximately 5.2%, in 2020, (9) and the World Food Programme has warned that up to 265 million people will suffer from starvation, (10) with considerable Sub-Saharan Africa poverty impacts. (11) It is predicted that national priorities may shift inwards, with collective international climate action becoming relegated to a lesser priority. (12)


Whilst there is a legal obligation to revise NDCs in 2020, it is possible that various country Parties either delay until the rescheduled COP26 or simply fail to update their national plans. Even revised NDCs may exhibit reduced ambition resulting from redirected national priorities and investment capital. This is especially true for highly vulnerable regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where climate adaptation needs are greatest but the costs of taking action are already prohibitive. (13)


The process of updating NDCs will be a litmus test for the global climate change response. If momentum is lost at this critical stage of the Agreement’s implementation then we risk plunging the negotiations back into the political and diplomatic stasis that plagued the multi-lateral process prior to the Paris Agreement. For this reason, every effort needs to be made to ensure that the pandemic does not interrupt or undermine the timeous submission of NDCs but also their ambition.


In this policy brief we consider the extent to which NDCs have been updated and revised and the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this process, focusing on African NDCs; and, we explore how the revision and updating of NDCs might be supported by developed country Parties, particularly those in the European Union (EU).



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1 UNEP (2019). Emissions Gap Report 2019. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi 2019. (

2 The Paris Agreement (UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.21) is the formal outcome of the Twenty-First Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

3 NDCs were first submitted in anticipation of COP 21, during the course of 2015, in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

(INDCs), pursuant to the Lima Call for Climate Action (UNFCCC Decision

1/CP.20). Pursuant to the Paris Agreement country Parties are invited to communicate their NDCs to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) no later than their ratification of the Paris Agreement, provided that a country Party that has communicated an INDC prior to joining the Agreement will be considered to have satisfied the NDC requirement (UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.21 paragraph 22).

4 The duty to revise applies if an NDC ends in 2025, alternatively an

update is required if the first NDC ends in 2030.This will ensure that as

of 2030, countries will have a common time frame for NDCs (UNFCCC

Decision 1/CP.21 paragraphs 23 and 24).

5 Current NDCs put the world on a trajectory of global temperature increases between 2.9 to 3.4 degrees C, well above the 1.5°C that scientists say is necessary for preventing the worst effects of climate change.

6 The 2030 emissions gap is defined as the difference between global total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from least-cost scenarios and the expected global total GHG emissions, if NDCs are fully implemented.

The emissions gap in 2030, compared with least-cost pathways limiting global warming to below 2°C, ranges between 12-18 GtCO2e for the full implementation of the conditional and the unconditional NDCs respectively. This gap increases to between 29-35 GtCO2e to limit global warming to 1.5°C (UNEP 2019, paragraph 2.3).

7 Statement by Belize on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at the opening plenary meeting of COP, CMP, CMA, SBSTA and SBI (2 December 2019). (

8 Including not only revisions of the NDCs under the Paris Agreement, but also COP 15 on Biodiversity where Parties are to negotiate a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework (Editorial “A Super Year for the

Environment” (January 2020) 4 The Lancet Planetary Health 1.

9 World Bank, Global Economic Prospect (Washington: World Bank Group, June 2020). (

10 World Food Programme, ‘WFP Chief Warns of Hunger Pandemic as COVID-19 Spreads – Statement to the UN Security Council,’ April, 21 2020. (

11 See A Sumner, C Hoy and E Ortiz-Juarez, “Estimates of the Impact of COVID-19 on Global Poverty”, (Working Paper 43/2020, UNU WIDER); and, E Davies, S Fakir and M Nagiah “How will COVID-19 impact South Africa’s climate change diplomacy?” South African Institute for International Affairs (26 August 2020). (

12 E Davies, S Fakir and M Nagiah “How will COVID-19 impact South Africa’s climate change diplomacy?” South African Institute for International Affairs (26 August 2020).

13 African Development Bank Gap Analysis Report: African Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) (2018).



Louis Mourier


Programm-Manager Klimapolitik, Energie und Environmental Governance +32-2-66931 75