Ambition in the making: analysing the preparation and implementation process of the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement

Frauke Röser, Oscar Widerberg, Niklas Höhne*, Thomas Day

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Nearly all the world’s governments have prepared and submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), setting out their climate pledges under the 2015 Paris Agreement. These NDCs are to be regularly updated, and many countries are expected to submit a new NDC in 2020. While several studies have assessed the content and potential impacts of the NDCs, this article focusses on the preparatory process and asks the question: under what conditions can countries be expected to develop NDCs that are sufficiently ambitious to contribute to fulfilling the Paris Agreement goals? For some countries, in particular developing nations and emerging economies, the process of preparing and implementing NDCs presents challenges in terms of political support; financial, human and technical resources; and analytical capabilities. With a view to improving future NDCs, this article provides insights from the first round of NDCs. Using results from four surveys carried out in 2015, 2017 and 2018 targeting government representatives and other stakeholders from primarily developing countries and emerging economies, the article finds that the NDC preparation process contributed positively to national climate policy processes. For example, it raised political awareness and preparedness for preparing and implementing climate policies across various ministries and agencies. It also prompted institutional innovation and more coordination between various policy areas. However, more can be done to enhance analytical capacity in order for countries to make commitments based on robust analysis and data. Key policy insights In many countries, the preparation of the NDCs positively contributed to national climate policy processes by raising awareness and catalysing institutional change. The NDC process improved political buy-in across government and non-government stakeholders thereby laying the foundation for future higher NDC and climate policy ambition. A better understanding of broader impacts and the involvement of affected stakeholders in a targeted way could be conducive to reaching the goals defined in the Paris Agreement and support realistic, yet ambitious target setting. Conversely, process-related problems may lead to implementation problems. More analytical, financial and technical resources are needed to implement the first round of NDCs and support countries in preparing future NDC cycles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-429
Number of pages15
JournalClimate Policy
Issue number4
Early online date6 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

Special issue: Making climate action more effective: lessons learned from the first Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).


This work was financed through various sources and projects including finance from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Environment Ministry under the Ambition to Action project. The authors thank the project partners, in particular Xander van Tilburg (ECN/TNO), all the participants of the surveys for their valuable contributions and insights, as well as, Pieter Pauw for his tireless support and guidance. Country Survey 1 Survey 2 Survey 3 Survey 4 Afghanistan X Albania X X Andorra X X Angola X Antigua and Barbuda X X X Argentina X X X Armenia X X X Austria X X Azerbaijan X X X X Bangladesh X Belarus X Belize X X Benin X X Bhutan X X Bolivia X Brazil X Bulgaria X Burkina Faso X X Burma X X Burundi X Cambodia X X X Canada X Chad X X X Chile X X X Comoros X Congo, Democratic Republic of the X X Congo, Republic of the X Costa Rica X Cote d’Ivoire X X X Croatia X X Czechia X Democratic Republic of the Congo X Dominican Republic X X X X Ecuador X X El Salvador X Equatorial Guinea X Ethiopia X European Union (EU) X France X Gambia X X Georgia X X Germany X Ghana X Grenada X Guatemala X X Guinea X Guinea-Bissau X Haiti X Honduras X X Hungary X India X X Indonesia X X X Iran (Islamic Republic of) X Iraq X Ireland X X Italy X Jamaica X X Japan X Jordan X Kenya X X X X Kiribati X X Kuwait X Kyrgyzstan X Laos X X Latvia X Lebanon X X X X Liberia X X X Libya X X Macedonia X X X Malawi X X Malaysia X X Maldives X X Mali X Marshall Islands X Mauritania X X Mauritius X X Mexico X X X Micronesia X X Moldova X Mongolia X X X X Montenegro X X Morocco X X X Namibia X Nauru X Nepal X Netherlands X X Niger X Nigeria X X X Norway X Pakistan X X X Palau X X X Panama X Papua New Guinea X X Paraguay X Peru X X Philippines X X Portugal X Republic of Moldova X Rwanda X Saint Kitts and Nevis X Saint Lucia X X Saint Vincent and the Grenadines X Senegal X Serbia X Seychelles X X Sierra Leone X X Solomon Islands X Somalia X South Africa X X South Sudan X Sri Lanka X State of Palestine X X Sudan X Swaziland X X Switzerland X Syria X Tajikistan X X X Thailand X X X X The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia X Timor-Leste X Togo X Trinidad and Tobago X Tunisia X Turkey X X Turkmenistan X Tuvalu X X X Uganda X Ukraine X X United Arab Emirates X United Republic of Tanzania X Uruguay X X X Vanuatu X X Venezuela X Vietnam X X X X Yemen X X X Zambia X X X Zimbabwe X X X X

FundersFunder number
Mount Saint Vincent University
European Commission
European Geosciences Union
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit
Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, nukleare Sicherheit und Verbraucherschutz


    • Ambition
    • Nationally Determined Contributions
    • Paris Agreement
    • UNFCCC


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