Nationally Determined Contributions: Material climate commitments and discursive positioning in the NDCs

Megan Mills-Novoa, Diana M. Liverman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


In the lead-up to the 2015 Conference of Parties meeting in Paris, 186 countries, representing over 95% of global emissions, submitted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The NDCs outline national goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions and identify financial needs for unfolding mitigation and adaptation efforts. In this study, we review various analyses of the NDCs that cover the aggregate impact and strength of emissions reduction commitments and discuss recent literature on the adequacy and sectoral focus of the NDCs. We then argue that the NDCs are more than just goal setting reports; they are important discursive documents that are contested, negotiated, and ongoing. To supplement the existing literature, we examine the discursive narratives embedded in the NDCs from the 19 founding nations of the Climate Vulnerable Forum and the top 10 greenhouse gas emitters. Our literature review of quantitative and sectoral aspects of the NDCs highlights the inadequacy of the NDC commitments in the context of limiting warming to 2°C, discusses the uncertainties in the promised mitigation strategies, and identifies the reliance of many countries on policies such as those on forests or renewable energy. Our own analysis of the discourses in the NDCs adds critical depth by highlighting the stark contrasts in NDC discourses between North and South, as well as between historical emitters and emerging economies. These contrasts reflect deeper debates regarding justice and equity between nations within the UNFCCC negotiations. This article is categorized under: Climate and Development > Decoupling Emissions from Development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere589
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2019


  • Nationally Determined Contributions
  • adaptation
  • discourse
  • environmental governance
  • mitigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Atmospheric Science


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