This awkward, abstract phase refers to the means by which countries participating in the global climate negotiations, under the auspices of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will measure their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The parties to the IPCC negotiation have agreed to try to keep global mean temperature from exceeding 2°C above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid the worst impacts from climate change. The INDC of each country will set out how much they will reduce GHG emissions after 2020, pursuant to an anticipated new international agreement expected in Paris in December 2015. It represents each country’s own pledge or proposed target for reducing GHGs.
An important component of the INDCs is the need for each country to convince everyone else that their plans are transparent (everybody else will be able to observe whether and how the plan is being carried out) and equitable (each country has to contribute as much as it can in light of its historic levels of GHG emissions and its resources).
With so many countries participating, with so many different political and economic structures, it was not easy getting agreement on a standard to which all could agree, which accounts for its vagueness.
While it is vague, a parsing of the phrase does reveal certain characteristics, not always positive. “Intended” suggests best hopes rather than guarantees, or legally enforceable efforts. “Nationally determined” implies each to his own, not forced by any outside party. And “contributions” suggest that everybody has to chip in as opposed to being required to do anything.
Stripped of its abstraction, it means that each country is being asked: What are you going to do to help fight climate change? Some see it as a major step forward since it is the first time all countries are obliged to produce pledges. Some see the phrase as embodying little that is enforceable, and so view it as pie in the sky.
Some further ideas to explore on INDCs:
Look at the INDCs already submitted by several large, developed countries and by several smaller, developing countries and figure out which are more transparent and why.
Look at the INDCs already submitted by several large, developed countries and by several smaller, developing countries and figure out which are more equitable in terms of their historic levels of GHGs and their economic resources.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). unfccc.int/focus/indc_portal/items/8766.php
World Resources Institute, What is an INDC? www.wri.org/indc-definition
The Carbon Brief, Explainer: What are ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’? www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2015/03/explainer-what-are-intended-nationally-determined-contributions/