Before starting work on their NDC implementation plan, countries will need to confirm the objectives of their NDC. They will also need to define the scope of their NDC implementation plan, its timeframe, how it will relate to existing plans and processes, and its status. There are a number of further issues to consider before finalising and submitting the first NDC. (Download the pdf version of the full report here.)

1.1 Submit the first NDC

Paragraph 22 of Decision 1/CP21 invites parties to “communicate their first [NDC] no later than when they submit their respective instrument of ratification, accession or approval of the Paris Agreement”. 10 At the time of publication, most countries had not finalised or submitted their first NDCs to the UNFCCC.

Parties are considered to have satisfied this provision if they have communicated an INDC prior to joining the agreement, unless they decide otherwise. 11  Countries that have not yet submitted an NDC must therefore decide if the INDC they submitted to the UNFCCC is to become their first NDC without amendment.

Alternatively, a country can choose to revise its INDC before communicating it as their first NDC. 12  The reasons for doing so can include a change in government since the INDC was submitted, the announcement of new policies, the completion of processes that were ongoing at the time the INDC was being prepared, or simply to improve the quality of the information submitted.

Possible revisions to an INDC might include the following.

  • Increasing its ambition, for example:
    • making targets more stringent
    • including additional sectors
    • including additional mitigation and adaptation activities
  • Providing more information about the INDC, for example:
    • details of the measures to be undertaken
    • the envisaged use of international carbon markets
    • assumptions underpinning the INDC 13
    • updates of national policies that have been adopted since the INDC was submitted
    • the estimated costs of implementation
    • international support requirements
  • Explaining how the country considers its NDC to be fair and ambitious, for example:
    • including statements linking the NDC to the long-term global mitigation goals in the Paris Agreement 14
  • Including further details about NDC implementation plans, for example:
    • timelines for implementation activities
    • proposed institutional structures
    • how progress will be tracked through national MRV systems
    • a stronger evidence base to underpin the NDC, including long-term climate-resilient, low-emissions development strategies 15
    • projections of climate change and vulnerability assessments

The ‘Guide to INDCs – Second Edition’, 16  produced in 2015 by CDKN and Ricardo Energy & Environment, describes the content that could be included in each section of an INDC, and offers ideas on how an INDC could be updated before being submitted as the first NDC.

1.2 Consider key strategic questions

There are several strategic questions that countries could consider before starting work on their NDC implementation plan; this section outlines some of the key issues.

Scope: what should the NDC implementation plan cover?

Countries have complete discretion as to the scope of their NDC implementation plans. Each will want to decide on a scope that balances their priorities and ambitions with administrative efficiency. For example, a country may decide to adopt a comprehensive approach that covers all five modules included in the Reference Manual; alternatively, it may decide to focus – at least initially – on a limited number of modules, or apply the modules to specific sectors only (e.g. energy, forestry) and add further modules or sectors at a later date.

For reasons of administrative simplicity, countries may decide to include existing climate- and UNFCCC-related activities within their NDC implementation plans and its related work streams. In particular, this may include those closely associated with the NDC process, such as National Adaptation Plans, Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions and Green Climate Fund accreditation.

In addition, countries may decide to include the finalisation of the first NDC (see Section 1.1) in their implementation plan, the process for preparing and approving the next NDC (see activity 9 in the mitigation module of the Reference Manual) and broader stakeholder engagement on implementation of the Paris Agreement (see activity 5 in the governance module of the Reference Manual).

Time frame: what period should the NDC implementation plan cover?

Countries can choose what time frame their NDC implementation plan covers. One option is to align domestic timelines with the NDC updating cycle set out in the Paris Agreement, including the timeline for submitting the country’s next NDC, as well as wider planning processes (e.g. national five-year plans).

The principle focus of NDC implementation planning will likely be on the achievement of specific outcomes set out in the NDC; these will typically have target dates of 2025 or 2030. However, to achieve these goals, it may be beneficial for the NDC implementation plan to include activities for the pre-2020 period, for the following reasons.

  • Political momentum. In order to maintain political leadership and support for more ambitious action in the longer term, ‘quick wins’ may need to be achieved so that politicians can demonstrate short-term benefits, for example to reinforce the progressive position taken by the country in the climate negotiations and its NDC.
  • Preparing for post-2020 action. Mitigation and adaptation actions to reduce emissions and increase climate resilience in the period after 2020 will, in most cases, be dependent on early action and preparatory work being undertaken before 2020. This could include pilots, building capacity to implement specific post-2020 activities, and setting up and testing institutional structures and processes for implementation.
  • Addressing the pre-2020 emissions gap. Given the gap between existing efforts to reduce emissions and the reductions that are needed by 2020 to avoid dangerous climate change, many countries are trying to identify pre-2020 actions to close this gap.
  • Increased administrative efficiency. Given that countries are likely to be taking some action before 2020, it could be more efficient and coherent for pre- and post-2020 climate actions to be overseen by a single planning process and institutional structure, rather than two.

The time frame for each implementation plan will also relate to its scope. Countries may wish to adopt a phased approach to implementation, with certain elements to be covered in the early years, and others in later years. This approach might be particularly important where additional resources need to be secured in the first few years, in order to obtain buy-in for increasing ambition.

Alternatively, a country may decide that its implementation plan should include two (or more) implementation phases. For example, the first implementation plan might focus on the period up to 2020, but also contain less detailed information about implementing its NDC during the 2020–2025 period, for example major implementation milestones.

When the second NDC is submitted in 2020, the accompanying implementation plan could focus on the period from 2020 to 2025 in most detail, based on and built around what was in the previous implementation plan, with some (less detailed) information on NDC implementation for the subsequent period (2025 to 2030).

Whatever time period is chosen, it is important to build in regular opportunities to review progress and adjust objectives, activities and priorities as required, based on lessons learned and new external factors which may affect delivery. This can be done through the MRV system; the MRV module in the Reference Manual explains how results can be used to review progress and improve policy-making.

Integration: how will the NDC implementation plan relate to other processes?

NDCs will only be successful if they integrate low-carbon, climate-resilient planning into each country’s mainstream economic development plans. The level at which this integration occurs can vary – national, sectoral or subnational – but integration is an essential precondition for the transformation of economies needed to deliver the Paris Agreement. And for integration to happen successfully, there needs to be political leadership at the highest levels to ensure buy-in across different government ministries and from other stakeholders.

Integration offers significant opportunities for win–win actions that deliver economic and social benefits, as well as climate benefits. These opportunities will also be critical to achieving the SDGs. The process of implementing NDCs provides the opportunity to identify specific activities which can support individual SDGs, and the chance to set up policy-making processes which could provide a blueprint for the national implementation of the SDGs overall. For more information on these links, see Appendix 1 of this guide, and the Reference Manual.

The process of developing NDCs demonstrates that integration and mainstreaming have already begun in many countries. Nearly all NDCs build on existing national policies and processes, and in many countries they are based on existing national climate change strategies and plans, including Low Emissions Development Strategies, Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions, National Adaptation Programmes of Action, National Adaptation Plans and National Communications. In other countries, NDCs are based on the climate-related elements of national development plans, including green growth strategies or sectoral master plans for energy supply, energy efficiency or infrastructure. Successful NDC implementation will require that links to such high-priority plans, which are essential for economic growth and poverty alleviation, are established.

At the same time, it must be recognised that the Paris Agreement and the NDC process represent a more ambitious and more inclusive phase in the global response to climate change. Each country has taken on new commitments and has new obligations to report on progress and increase the ambition of its national contribution over time. Given the scale of action required, it will be important to put in place explicit checks and balances to ensure that those elements of existing processes which affect the achievement of the NDC – such as the achievement of renewable energy targets in energy strategies – are delivered and not overlooked. As a minimum, this will require changes to existing processes to ensure that NDC objectives are prioritised and their contribution to the country’s mitigation and adaptation efforts are maximised.

There are a number of ways in which integration with existing processes can be achieved:

  • Develop a stand-alone NDC implementation plan with explicit links to other processes, and include references to the NDC and how it will be delivered in future national development plans.
  • Develop sectoral action plans to deliver NDC outcomes, which are owned by key government ministries and fully integrated into wider ministerial delivery plans (Section 2.4 contains more information on the development of NDC implementation plans and sectoral action plans).
  • Make the links between the NDC and other climate change strategies transparent, and ensure that the relationships between overlapping processes are clear and unambiguous (see activity 3 of the governance module of the Reference Manual for more details on integrating NDC implementation across governments).
  • Ensure that the governance arrangements for different processes are mutually supporting, in particular that the role of the team(s) charged with coordinating NDC implementation and reporting to the UNFCCC is clear.

Successful integration with existing national plans and strategies will depend on ensuring a common link between any plans and strategies that directly or indirectly relate to climate change. So, even if separate stand-alone documents (e.g. an NDC implementation plan or sectoral action plans) are developed, they should clearly relate to and align with each other, and with other relevant plans and strategies.

These options are not mutually exclusive; indeed, countries may choose to do all of the above if appropriate to their national circumstances. During the early planning stage, it might be useful to hold a cross-ministerial meeting for engagement and implementation planning. This will help to ensure that the NDC implementation process is integrated with existing climate and development plans in all ministries from the start, and also help to secure the high-level political leadership needed. However, for administrative efficiency, new institutional arrangements to govern the delivery of the NDC should be avoided where they will duplicate existing efforts. Similarly, if a country is thinking of integrating SDG implementation with NDC implementation, then it should consider consolidating the respective plans.

Status: should the plan be formally approved and published?

Countries may consider formally approving their implementation plan. The form of approval needed is likely to vary from country to country, but may involve approval by parliament or sign-off by a specific minister or ministerial committee.

One advantage of formal approval is that the implementation plan will have a higher status nationally and internationally, and it will offer levers for holding those responsible for delivery to account, thereby increasing the chance of successful implementation. A disadvantage, however, is that the approval process can be resource and time intensive, especially where amendments have to be resubmitted for approval. Also, to be truly effective, NDC implementation plans need to be ‘living’ documents which can be adapted in response to lessons learned through their implementation, as well as changes in the regulatory and policy environment. Formal approval of a document makes it less likely to be seen as a living document.

Countries may consider publishing their NDC implementation plan. Given the broad interest in the NDC implementation arrangements and the need to involve multiple stakeholders and actors, it will be important for implementation plans to be transparent and their contents made widely available. Taking a transparent and participatory approach can strengthen public support – and therefore political will – for implementing the NDC.

Ultimately, a balance will need to be struck, based on national circumstances and practices. One approach could be for the high-level details, such as priorities, policy decisions and milestones, to be approved and published in a formal document, while more detailed plans covering individual modules, work streams and activities are updated on a regular basis and made available to relevant stakeholders.


Download the pdf version of the full report here.

  • 10 See: UNFCCC (2015) ‘Adoption of the Paris Agreement’. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (
  • 11 NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC have been uploaded to the interim NDC registry:
  • 12 At the time of writing (September 2016), some countries have already submitted revised NDCs; see, for example, Belize’s NDC on the interim NDC registry. The authors are also aware of other countries that are considering submitting revised NDCs due to policy changes since their INDC was submitted.
  • 13 In some countries, information was missing on issues such as which greenhouse gases and sectors were covered, or the assumed accounting methods for specific sectors.
  • 14 See Article 4(1) of the Paris Agreement. UNFCCC (2015) ‘Adoption of the Paris Agreement’. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (
  • 15 See Article 4(19) of the Paris Agreement and paragraph 36 of 1/CP21, which requests that such strategies be communicated by 2020.UNFCCC (2015) ‘Adoption of the Paris Agreement’. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (
  • 16 See: Holdaway, E., Dodwell, C., Sura, K. and Picot, H. (2015) A guide to INDCs: Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. Second edition (May 2015). London: Climate and Development Knowledge Network. (