NDCs AND RENEWABLE ENERGY TARGETS IN 2021: Are we on the right path to a climate-safe future?


Since the historic signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, nearly all countries have committed to limiting the increase in the average global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) this century compared to pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5°C, and many are now committing to net zero strategies by mid-century. However, IRENA’s analysis for the 2021 World Energy Transitions Outlook (WETO) which depicts a 1.5°C pathway, finds that national energy plans and targets, including the first round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, fell far short of this goal and, at best, would only result in a stabilisation of emissions (IRENA, 2021a). Meanwhile, climate-related impacts are worsening, disproportionately affecting low-income and marginalised population groups. Moreover, while countries have made significant progress related to climate mitigation and adaptation to date, most low-income countries still lack the necessary
funding to commit to a fair and equitable energy transition.

Overview of NDCs as of November 2021

Recognising that ambition needs to grow to get closer to meeting its goal, the Paris Agreement requires NDCs to be revised and submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat every five years – also known as the Agreement’s ratchet mechanism. Additionally, each successive NDC needs to represent a progression compared to its previous version and should reflect the country’s highest possible ambition. To date, 193 Parties have ratified the Paris Agreement (up from 190 in 2020 with South Sudan, Turkey and Iraq ratifying the Agreement in 2021), and 194 Parties have submitted NDCs 1 (Figure 1).

As of 15 November 2021, 151 Parties had submitted new or updated NDCs. Of these, less than half (91 Parties) – collectively representing around 63% of global GHG emissions in 2018 – had enhanced ambitions in their new or updated NDCs relative to their previous target. Of the remaining Parties that submitted new or updated NDCs in 2020 or 2021, 60 Parties – which accounted for a further 17.5% of global emissions in 2018 – submitted NDCs with either the same emission reduction targets, increased emissions compared to their first NDCs, or emissions reduction targets which are not comparable to their initial NDCs (Climate Watch, 2021a). There were still 27 Parties – which represent 3% of global emissions – that had expressed an intention to submit a new or updated NDC but had yet to do so by mid-November. Lastly, there were 16 Parties – representing the remaining 16% of global emissions in 2018 – that had not yet given any indication regarding their intention to update their NDCs with increased ambition (Climate Watch, 2021a). There are a number of major emitters that have yet to submit a new or updated NDC and although the number of submissions has been increasing, more and stronger targets are needed.

the end of the century (IEA, 2021). However, this still leaves the world short of the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. To stay within a global mean temperature rise of 1.5°C, it will be necessary to reduce emissions by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, with the aim of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 (IRENA, 2021a). Figure 3 shows the projected trends in global CO2 emissions under the 1.5°C Scenario, along with carbon emissions abatement from the energy transition solutions identified in IRENA’s WETO.

Renewable energy is a key option for reaching climate goals, with more than 160 Parties planning to reduce energy sector emissions through renewable energy-based mitigation action focused on the power sector. A detailed analysis of the renewable energy component of NDCs is presented in Section 2. End uses are covered in about less than one-third of submissions while other crucial areas such as energy efficiency and grid improvement are addressed in about 27% and 24% of submissions respectively (UNFCCC, 2021a). To achieve the energy transition, much more needs to be done to decarbonise heating and cooling uses and transport, as together, these accounted for almost 80% of energy consumption in 2019.

In fact, one encouraging trend has been the number of countries committing to long-term net zero targets. As of November 2021, 177 countries (about 90% of all countries) have revealed that they are considering net zero targets. Of these countries, nine have declared that they have achieved net zero emissions, 16 have net zero targets written into law, 59 have mentioned net zero in policy documents, 21
have made a declaration or pledge to reach net zero, and 72 have ongoing discussions regarding net zero targets (Net Zero Tracker, 2021; United Nations, n.d.; United Nations, 2021; World Bank, 2021). To achieve long-term net zero goals, countries need to make substantial progress over time in advancing
energy transition technologies such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, which emphasises the need for stronger 2030 commitments.

Renewable energy components of NDCs

Setting the world on a climate resilient pathway in line with the Paris Agreement depends on a global transformation of the energy system towards clean energy. Significant scaling-up of renewable energy deployment, enhanced energy efficiency, and electrification of end-use sectors such as heating and transport, can together meet 70% of abatement potential (25%, 25% and 20% respectively) (IRENA, 2021a). Given its vital role in achieving global climate goals, this section focuses on the renewable energy components of the NDCs. As of 15 November 2021, 182 Parties had included renewable energy components in their NDCs, of which 144 had a quantified target. From these targets, 109 focus on power and 30 explicitly mention renewables in heating and cooling or transport. Only 13 Parties have committed to a percentage of renewables in their overall energy mixes. They include the Bahamas, 7 China, Eswatini, the European Union, Ghana, India, 8 Indonesia, Jamaica, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan and Paraguay. Alt

hough the direct use of renewables for heating and cooling (e.g. bioenergy, solar thermal or geothermal energy) and transport (e.g. bioenergy) plays a considerable role in the energy transition, the focus on power is also critical. IRENA’s 1.5°C Scenario shows that electricity would be the main energy carrier by 2050, with more than a 50% direct share of total final energy consumption – up from 21% in 2018. This means that power additions must be from clean sources, and ambitious renewable targets are required to achieve a share of 90% in the electricity mix by 2050, as per IRENA’s 1.5°C Scenario (Figure 6).

Of the 109 Parties that have defined targets for renewables in the power sector in their NDCs, 49 presented them in the form of additions – mostly in the form of capacity (GW) and a few in terms of output (GWh) (Figure 7). Although commitments to adding renewable power (in terms of capacity or output) deliver many benefits – namely providing long-term clarity regarding the trajectory of the renewable energy sector, increasing investor confidence, and building a local industry with its associated socio-economic benefits – a target in this form does not give clear indication regarding progress towards achieving climate goals.

Achieving these targets would meet only one-third of what is required to stay in line with 1.5°C pathway (10.8 TW by 2030, before growing further to 27.8 TW by 2050) (IRENA, 2021a). Targeted capacity for solar PV and onshore wind would each need to rise five-fold compared to current
projections if all targets were to be reached. 12 CSP targets would need to be more than eleven times higher, while those for onshore wind and geothermal would need to more than triple (Figure 8). This would require USD 10.5 trillion in new renewable power investment between 2020 and 2030, not accounting for the investment required to establish the enabling conditions for these projects to take place.

Climate finance and NDCs

Securing a climate-resilient future depends on the ability of the global community to direct global financial capital towards sustainable assets. Climate finance therefore plays a crucial role in achieving NDCs and transforming mitigation and adaptation commitments into actions. The investment needs are substantial and will require a much greater activation of all capital pools – both public and private – as well as a stepped-up redirection of financing from ‘brown’ to ‘green’ technologies, and a stronger emphasis on providing support to those countries that need it.

IRENA has estimated that the deployment of energy transition-related technologies required to put the world on the 1.5°C pathway necessitates USD 131 trillion of aggregate investment between 2021 and 2050. This represents an average annual funding requirement for the energy sector of about USD 4.4 trillion between 2021 and 2050 (Figure 9) (IRENA, 2021a). When it comes to renewable power, which is identified as one of the major avenues for achieving the energy transition, the required annual investment amounts to nearly USD 1 trillion for the 2021–2050 period (IRENA, 2021a), more than triple the renewable energy power investment of the USD 300 billion estimated for 2020. The investments presented in Figure 9 represent the needs for installing the technology and exclude the investments required to create an enabling environment for the transition (e.g. capacity building and the implementation of structural change and just transition policies).

investments of more than USD 24 trillion must be redirected from fossil fuels towards energy transition technologies. Countries would be well advised to begin this capital reallocation rapidly, as delaying action would cause fossil fuel stranded assets to nearly double, from an estimated USD 3.3 trillion to an alarming USD 6.5 trillion by 2050 In addition, support is needed to ensure a just transition, including the reallocation and creation of new jobs and services (IRENA, 2021a). Box 5 discusses the Just Transition Partnership for the transition from coal in South Africa.

and national climate change channels. Multilateral channels include entities such as GCF and GEF, as well the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs) administered by the World Bank, and multilateral development banks. Bilateral climate flows mostly come through development agencies and bilateral climate funds (such as Germany’s International Klimaschutz initiative [climate protection initiative, IKI] or the UK’s International Climate Finance [ICF]). Regional and national channels include a variety of funds such as Africa Risk Capacity (ARC), Brazil’s Amazon Fund, and the Indonesian Climate Change Trust Fund, to name a few (Climate Funds Update, 2021; Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance, 2020). Owing to its large and decentralised scope, climate finance flows are difficult to estimate and monitor – this is also due to the fact that there is no universal agreement on the definition of ‘climate finance’ nor are there consistent accounting rules to track such flows (Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance, 2020).

ANNEX 1. Highest CO2 emitting countries and regions and level of ambition in NDCs

Executive Summary

Although ambitions in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were raised, more needs to be done to put us on the path to keep the rise in global temperature to below 1.5°C. Almost all countries have ratified the Paris Agreement and all Parties have now submitted an NDC. If fully implemented, the original NDCs would have only helped limit global temperature rise to 2.8°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, calling for more ambitious NDCs. As of mid-November 2021, 91 Parties – accounting for almost 64% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – had submitted NDCs that are more ambitious than the original ones and 16 Parties – accounting for 3% of global emissions – have expressed their intention to submit an updated NDC. However, even if all countries implement their latest NDCs, the global GHG emission level in 2030 is expected to be 13.7% above 2010 levels, which
could result in a temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. At the same time, countries are increasingly making net zero commitments by 2050. Together with the new and updated NDCs, current and announced net zero pledges are projected to reduce emissions by approximately 20% by 2030 compared to the business as usual before the first NDCs, with the potential to limit warming to 2.1°C. However, this is still well above the 1.5 °C goal. Another positive trend is that more than 100 countries are promising to cut emissions of methane by 30% by 2030. These pledges, combined with the NDCs and net zero targets, have been found by the International Energy Agency to be sufficient to hold the rise in global temperatures to 1.8°C by the end of the century.


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