COP21: How credible are the INDCs commitments?

After the successful conclusion of the 21st Conference of the Party (COP21), attention is now likely to focus on what countries have promised in their so called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’ (INDCs).

Much of the debate around the INDCs has focused on the level of ambition of the emissions reductions targets that countries have committed to. In particular, a key issue has been whether these targets would be sufficient to prevent an increase in mean global temperature above 2°C, and whether countries will commit to regular reviews of their targets.

However, while current and future emissions targets are important for evaluating the intended ambition the UNFCCC parties, they do not tell the full story around the success (or lack of it) of the INDC process and its long term implications.

Two other aspects are particularly relevant in determining whether the INDCs and other agreements that will result from the negotiations will help to tackle climate change. These are the feasibility of the pledges, in terms of the ability of a country to meet the cost of achieving its targets, and the INDCs credibility or, put it simply, the expectation that countries will do what they said they will.

The issue of credibility is the subject of a paper we have just launched at a COP21 side-event, organised by the Grantham Research Institute and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Assessing credibility

The credibility of INDCs is important in two respects. First, it helps to build trust among negotiating parties, which in turn will help to increase the ambition of pledges over time.  Second, countries with commitments that are perceived as credible are more likely to attract the private investment and international climate finance that will be essential for their successful implementation, particularly for those pledges that are conditional on finance.

Our paper fleshes out the definition of credibility and identifies the key determinants that support it. It outlines a framework to assess the credibility of a country’s INDC pledges based on these determinants. Finally, it tests this framework on the G20 countries, in order to sketch out a first assessment of the determinants supporting credibility of their INDCs.

Assessing the credibility of INDCs is challenging because it can be driven by multiple factors that often interact and mutually reinforce each other. Overall, we identify eight key determinants which we consider to be key drivers of credibility:

  • A coherent and comprehensive legislative and policy basis
  • A transparent, inclusive and effective decision-making process
  • Capable public bodies
  • Supportive private bodies
  • A history of effective international engagement
  • A climate-aware public opinion
  • A track record of delivering on past climate change commitments
  • No history of policy reversal

These determinants are particularly meaningful for analysts because they are measurable. For simplicity, we have scored each of them around a five-step scale:

  1. Not supportive of credibility
  2. Slightly supportive
  3. Moderately supportive
  4. Largely supportive
  5. Fully supportive

The credibility of climate change pledges can also be determined by other dynamic factors, such as strong leadership in the face of political inertia (as is seen with President Obama in the US), the lack of political consensus on climate change across party lines, and the timing of upcoming elections.  These elements can change very rapidly over time, making them difficult to measure. Although it was not possible to capture them in this analysis, it would be important to take them into account when assessing countries’ credibility in more detail.

How the G20 stack up

When we assessed the G20 countries around these eight determinants, it became apparent that the 20 countries, as a group, score moderately well across all of them. There are, however, notable variations between industrialised and developing/emerging economies. The latter on average tend to score lower on decision-making processes, public bodies and private bodies supportive to climate action, and have lower public awareness of climate change.

There are also significant differences in the level of and balance among the determinants of credibility for individual countries. Notably, three broad groups of countries can be identified:

  • Countries with most determinants at a level ‘largely supportive’ to credibility. This includes the EU and its individual G20 members (France, Germany, Italy and the UK) as well as Korea.
  • Countries with most of the determinants of credibility at least ‘moderately supportive’ to credibility, but displaying significant weakness in one of the determinants. This includes Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, South Africa and the US.
  • A number of countries which have scope to significantly increase credibility across most determinants. These are Argentina, Canada China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

There are also large differences for what concerns the level of emissions reductions that each country pledged in its INDC. By combining countries’ emission reductions with their credibility scores, we were able also to look at the big picture, assessing the credibility of the G20’s aggregate emission reductions for each of the determinant analysed.

How credible is a deal in Paris

The overall results are moderately encouraging, as large shares of emission appears to be backed by determinants which are at least moderately supportive of credibility – a level halfway between fully supportive and not supportive. There is, however, significant room for improvement, in particular in terms of strengthening the support of domestic players and organisations (driven by the determinants of ‘public bodies’ and ‘private bodies’), as well as improving norms and opinions concerning climate change (affected by the determinants of ‘international engagement’ and ‘public opinion’).

After the negotiations at COP21, countries have a window of opportunity for improvement, in particular in those determinants of credibility that are under direct government influence, notably domestic policy and legislation, decision-making process and the capacity of climate change-related public bodies. The latter would be particularly crucial in developing and emerging countries.

In the long run this could also help to boost those determinants outside of direct government control, like public opinion and private bodies, as well as improve their track record on climate change policies. This will not only increase the credibility of their international commitments and their capability to deliver, but also enable them to raise the ambition of future commitments.