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Editor's Note: This blog has been updated to include a final version of the full publication.

With the 2015 Paris climate negotiations just a few months away, countries are unveiling their proposed commitments for climate action after 2020 — their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs.

Since there is no mandated INDC form or format, these offerings may vary widely. Some may include emission reduction targets while others showcase policies. Some may offer emissions-cutting goals for certain sectors while others will present across-the-board targets. Some will include adaptation, while others don’t.

A new guidance document, shared last week by WRI and UNDP, can help practitioners through the key steps to developing climate action commitments. The advance unedited publication, Designing and Preparing INDCs, was drafted in response to country requests (link has been updated with final edited publication).

The document explains five key steps that every INDC should generally follow. Below is an overview, with examples from countries that have already submitted their INDCs.

1) Identify the benefits and secure a country’s commitment to develop an INDC

Significant domestic benefits of developing and implementing an INDC should be communicated to key decision makers and the public to build support. A country’s INDC can demonstrate its political commitment and help realize non-climate benefits, such as reduced air pollution and economic benefits. INDC preparation and implementation can strengthen the capacity of institutions to design climate change strategies and help link climate change to other key developmental priorities. It can also be a way to inform key stakeholders, including the private sector, on how climate change actions will be implemented, and to inform donors about resource needs.

2) Organize a national process to develop the plan

Building upon existing national processes can help countries prepare INDCs in time for COP21 in December. While every national circumstance will be unique, the following elements can help in preparing a robust INDC through a consultative, efficient process:

  • secure national leadership;
  • establish clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and timeline;
  • ensure stakeholder engagement; and
  • secure the necessary resources and capacities

For example, in Mexico, the INDC process included stakeholder engagement via sectoral meetings and a web-based public survey. In Chile, the government held a four-month public consultation process.

3) Identify necessary data and analysis

The development of an INDC should, in general, be informed by data and analysis regarding several elements, including:

  • internationally communicated pre-2020 climate actions;
  • national objectives and priorities;
  • the current emissions profile of the country;
  • projected future emissions;
  • an assessment of mitigation potential; and
  • resource mobilization strategies, such as domestic and international finance from public and private sources

With relevant data and analysis, countries can prioritize sectors and greenhouse gas emissions sources. Countries can also use their data to design INDCs that are realistic and achievable as well as fair and ambitious in contributing to the objective of the UNFCCC.

Countries may already have sufficient data and analysis to inform their INDCs, so collecting a significant amount of new data or conducting new analysis may not be necessary. For example, South Africa is leveraging its pre-existing mitigation analysis, such as the Long-Term Mitigation Scenarios, which includes information on mitigation potential, costs and benefits.

4) Design the INDC

INDCs can be framed either in terms of means, or in terms of desired outcomes.

A country could commit to implementing specific emissions-reduction means, such as policies or mitigation actions like advancing a feed-in tariff for renewable energy technologies, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies or converting to no-tillage agricultural practices. Alternatively, a country could commit to a certain outcome or result, such as reducing emissions to a specific level (a greenhouse gas outcome), generating a certain percentage of renewable energy or increasing energy efficiency to a certain level (both non-greenhouse gas outcomes). The variety of domestic situations each country faces in reducing emissions will drive a wide diversity of INDCs, ranging from emissions targets to energy targets to actions in particular sectors.

So far, submitted INDCs – shown in the map below – have included GHG outcomes in the form of (1) base year emissions goals (from the European Union, Liechtenstein, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, and the United States), and (2) baseline emissions scenario goals (from Gabon and Mexico). At this time, all countries have included a target or desired outcome, while only some have also detailed how the goal will be achieved.

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Click to enlarge.

In addition to mitigation commitments, in Lima negotiators agreed to also invite countries to consider communicating actions related to adaptation in their INDCs, which some countries have already done. Mexico submitted an annex on adaptation, which includes descriptions of its vulnerability to climate change and its adaptation actions and needs for capacity building, transfer of technology and finance for adaptation. Gabon included information on adaptation as well.

Developing countries may also choose to highlight needs and priorities related to finance, technology, and capacity building. Some may outline additional actions they could take with greater support. For example, with its own resources, Mexico has committed to reducing GHG emissions and short-lived climate pollutants 25 percent below business-as-usual emissions by 2030. If a global agreement addresses access to low-cost financial resources and technology transfer, among other things, at a scale commensurate to the challenge of global climate change, Mexico could reduce its greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants up to 40 percent below business-as-usual emissions by 2030.

5) Transparently communicate the INDC

Transparent communication of the INDCs is critical to understanding individual and aggregate impacts of countries’ proposed commitments, including whether global emissions after 2020 will be in line with the goal to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over pre-industrial levels. Providing detailed information about an INDC can also be useful for enhancing domestic implementation by clarifying assumptions needed to implement the contribution and communicating those assumptions to domestic stakeholders. Additionally, communicating an INDC may help provide a better understanding of finance, capacity and technology needs, if relevant.

The Lima Call for Climate Action specifies information that countries can put forward in their INDCs. Through the Open Book project, WRI has provided additional guidance to assist countries in fulfilling the Lima Call for Climate Action to ensure clarity, transparency and understanding.

In general the INDCs submitted thus far have been fairly transparent, but with some key omissions. The EU, Gabon and Russia provided little information on their assumed land sector accounting approaches, which could have significant implications for the ambition of the pledge. Mexico could also improve the clarity of its emissions baseline and clarify at what level their emissions will peak.

Important Decisions

Over the coming year, countries have the opportunity to put the world on a sustainable path by putting forth serious INDC commitments. We hope that countries will find Designing and Preparing INDCs helpful as they make important decisions about what to include in their proposed commitments.