Globally, current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) targets are within reach thanks to the increasing speed of clean energy transitions around the world. That’s as NDCs have, as planned, got more ambitious as nations have updated them every five years. The problem is current NDCs are still not ambitious enough to meet our actual 2050 net zero target. Daniel Wetzel, Gabriel Saive, Luca Lo Re and Alice Latella at the IEA summarise the IEA’s suite of tools and studies, part of their contribution to COP28’s Global Stocktake in November. It’s worth noting that emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) look set to deliver, and in some cases surpass, current NDC targets. And encouraging that 94 countries and the EU have committed to a Net Zero Emissions (NZE) pledge. But without raising those NDC targets those pledges will not be fulfilled, explain the authors. Advanced economies need to reduce emissions annually by about 7% to 2030, while in EMDEs it’s 2%. Furthermore, those NDCs must become more transparent and specific, giving both decision-makers and the public a way to measure actual performance not just promises. The IEA’s Climate Pledges Explorer provides granular information on NDCs at the global, regional and national level.
Clean energy technology adoption has surged at an unprecedented pace over the last two years, with solar photovoltaics (PV) and electric vehicles (EVs) as notable examples. Through a combination of effective policies, expanding markets, and falling costs, clean energy technologies are shifting the outlook for emissions. They are expected to contribute around 7.5 gigatonnes (Gt) in emissions mitigated across the energy sector by 2030 against a Pre-Paris Agreement baseline, according to our updated IEA’s Net Zero Roadmap.
…but the current NDC targets are still too low
The momentum behind clean energy technologies means that the existing near-term climate goals set out by countries in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are almost within reach at a global level. However, the ambition of these NDCs globally is not aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement yet.
The IEA analysed each NDC submission to understand how the energy sector would evolve if countries fully implemented their climate goals. Today, this comprehensive analysis is publicly available on the IEA’s Climate Pledges Explorer as part of our Global Energy Transitions Stocktake, which is the IEA’s contribution to the first Global Stocktake at COP28 in Dubai in November.
The first round of NDCs, submitted after the Paris Agreement came into force in 2016, would have led to an increase in CO2 emissions from fuel combustion in absolute terms up to 35 Gt CO2 in 2030 – about 8% above today’s emissions (33 Gt CO2 excluding industrial processes and international bunkers).
…despite rising ambitions
However, 90% of Paris Agreement signatories submitted updated NDCs as of October 2023. These reflect a substantial increase in ambition: updated NDCs now imply that energy sector emissions would peak this decade and fall to 30 Gt CO2 in 2030 – about 8% lower than today’s emissions. This represents an improvement of around 5 Gt CO2 compared to the first round of commitments. Approximately 2 Gt of reductions came from advanced economies while emerging markets accounted for 3 Gt, with the largest contributions coming from China, the United States, India, and the European Union.
It is not certain that all countries will meet the goals set out in their NDCs. In some cases, NDCs are not ambitious enough, with current policies more than sufficient to meet or even exceed the NDC goals. While in others, existing policies would not be enough to deliver on the stated NDC targets.
Each year, the IEA assesses how current trends and policies are set to change the global energy mix through its IEA’s Stated Policies Scenario (STEPS). In 2023, STEPS shows that current policies are almost sufficient to deliver on the collective ambition of existing NDCs. This is particularly true in emerging market and developing economies, where today’s policy and industry momentum is set to deliver, and in some cases surpass, current NDC targets. Conversely, advanced economies still require more domestic policy action to deliver on NDC targets, reflecting, in part, the need for more ambitious NDC targets in 2030. As the world turns to formulating the next round of NDCs before COP30, informed by the outcomes of the first Global Stocktake, some regions could enter the upcoming climate negotiations confident that they can deliver on enhanced NDC ambition.
Most NDCs are not yet aligned with countries’ own Net Zero Pledges, and would need to further enhance ambition towards 2035
As countries set their new NDC targets, looking at their own long-term climate objectives (if they have one) could be a good starting place. Since 2016, 94 countries and the European Union have committed to a Net Zero Emissions (NZE) pledge. This leaves only 13% of global CO2 emissions from the energy sector, which are not covered by climate neutrality goals. The IEA’s Climate Pledges Explorer also includes a list of all Net Zero pledges, including their legal status and target year.
At the global level, current NDCs are not on the trajectory needed to fulfil all announced national net zero targets. To align with such a trajectory, as set out in the IEA’s Announced Pledges Scenario (APS), NDCs would need to mitigate a further 3.5 Gt CO2 by 2030. While several regions have already updated their NDCs to support their long-term climate pledges, no region has NDC targets that collectively align with their own net zero pledges.
Countries will submit the next round of NDCs, which should include new pledges for 2035, in the lead up to COP30 in Brazil in 2025. Current NDCs suggest global emissions from fuel combustion will be reduced by about 1% annually. This would need to increase to about 3.5% globally in the next round of NDCs to align with the APS by 2035.
The level of reduction required differs between countries and regions depending on the social, economic and political challenges each face. Advanced economies would need to reduce emissions annually by about 7% to 2030, while in emerging market and developing economies (EMDEs) the annual reduction would need to be around 2%, with major emerging economies such as China leading the way.
Still more ambition is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Current national net zero pledges remain short of what is needed in the IEA’s 2023 updated Net Zero Roadmap, which maps a trajectory for the energy sector to keep the 1.5oC target alive. This ambition gap is particularly stark in the near-term. The IEA’s Net Zero Roadmap indicates that by 2035, emissions need to decline by 80% in advanced economies and 60% in EMDEs. This means that the 3.5% annual reductions needed to meet current pledges would need to double to 8% annually to 2035 to align with the Paris Agreement goal. Advanced economies would need to lead the way with much sharper reductions to reach net zero emissions by around 2045, and EMDEs to do so only well after 2050 in aggregate, while some EMDEs like China would need to achieve NZE by 2050.
The next round of NDCs should make pledges more transparent
Current NDCs vary across countries in terms of how explicit mitigation pledges are in terms of scope of greenhouse gases and sectors covered, as well as in specifying an absolute mitigation effort. In the next round of NDC submissions, countries should also enhance the transparency of their NDCs, by specifying how much of their targets is meant to be achieved by reductions, removals or international carbon markets (i.e. via international co-operation through Article 6 of the Paris Agreement), and by expanding sectoral and gas scope.
The IEA’s Climate Pledges Explorer provides granular information on the type and scope of NDCs, which shows that in particular emerging market economies have room to expand coverage and shift to absolute emission reduction targets in their next NDCs. Moving away from intensity and baseline scenario targets to adopt absolute mitigation targets, could help improve the transparency and credibility of commitments, as shifting baselines or underlying economic growth can imply very different emissions outcomes for achieving NDCs.
Governments today have a reduced window of opportunity to act and enhance near-term climate ambition to put the world on a NZE-compatible pathway. The next round of NDCs, to be informed by the outcomes of the first Global Stocktake, will be critical to keeping 1.5°C within reach. The IEA works closely with governments around the world to support them in the establishment of long-term energy roadmaps consistent with their net zero vision, by developing in coordination with local ministries roadmaps and outlooks, such as the Roadmap to Net Zero Emissions in Indonesia or the forthcoming Latin America Energy Outlook 2023. The IEA will continue to track evolving climate pledges, periodically updating this public dataset to help support global efforts to increase climate ambitions over time.
Daniel Wetzel is the Head of Tracking Sustainable Transitions Unit at the IEA
Gabriel Saive is an Energy & Environment Analyst at the IEA
Luca Lo Re is a Climate and Energy Analyst at the IEA
Alice Latella is an Energy Analyst at the IEA