Image: Creative Commons, via Climate Visuals Countdown
Chapter Guide Resource
Exploring government promises and performance is made easier by using independent summaries that add value to the official data by providing searchability, graphics, and analysis.
The “grading” of government climate plans is done using a variety of methodologies. While these need to be read with caution, these evaluations often include useful summaries of government commitments. The criticisms provide context and investigative leads.
These sources also provide plentiful information on country emissions. More on sources for emissions data in Chapter 5.
Resources for Assessing NDCs
The International Energy Agency provides country-by-country data on emissions and also assesses the “pathways” necessary to meet the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) targets. For example, for Mexico, the IEA assessment noted: “Under current policy projections, Mexico may just barely reach its unconditional NDC target.”
Climate Action Tracker (CAT) — a collaboration between two organizations, Climate Analytics and New Climate Institute — rates 40 countries’ pledges and gives grades. For an example, see its “Highly Insufficient” rating for India. CAT does extensive assessments of government policies and what has been implemented. (See the Policies & Actions tabs). An overview of NDCs is found in its Climate Target Update Tracker. The 1.5˚C Pathway Explorer provides domestic emissions estimates required to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal as well as key characteristics for 64 countries. The site also offers insight about its methodology.
Climate Watch is managed by the World Resources Institute. It includes pages for each country with summaries, plus the full text of each nation’s NDC. An Explore NDC Module with a keyword search function permits comparisons of NDCs using more than 150 structured indicators. It allows reporters to compare countries’ NDC submissions side by side. The site also has a running list of countries committed to a net-zero target as well as a chart summarizing submissions. There’s a page on financial requirements for adaptation and mitigation. More than 50 countries have also submitted long-term strategies (LTS) for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Scorecard evaluates the climate change plans for 24 major countries. For instance, on its scorecard, Turkey is rated at 0%, or “Needs Improvement,” the US gets a 50% grade for “Some Progress,” and the European Union is given a core of 100%, or “Right Direction.” Periodic reports are issued, including instances when “country managers” take stock of climate-related loss and damage in their countries. The site also posts stories about individual countries. You can sign up for monthly updates.
Climate Transparency focuses on the Group of 20 developed countries and produces annual reviews, like its Climate Transparency Report 2022. Also, look at detailed country profiles. Similar profiles have been created for seven non-G-20 countries: Bangladesh, Colombia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Climate Transparency is supported by the German government and others.
Pledge Pipeline by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is “based on NDCs and other documents submitted by governments.” Detailed information is displayed on an Excel spreadsheet. Separately, UNEP’s Climate Initiatives Platform (CIP) “collects information on climate initiatives driven by non-state actors such as businesses and cities.”
UNEPs’ annual Emissions Gap Report summarizes the progress of G-20 members towards meeting their targets and provides extensive summaries of possible policy actions.
The NDC Explorer summarizes the NDCs using “70 subcategories related to mitigation, adaptation, finance and support, planning and process,” and more. Comparing countries is possible. The resource is sponsored by the German and Swedish governments.
The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Climate Change Dashboard has multiple features with individual country pages that begin with a graphic showing “Reported GHG Emissions vs. Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets.” The supporting data is downloadable. The IMF site has other data of possible interest, such as “Environmental Taxes as a Share of GDP.” IMF’s Experimental SEEA Based Quarterly Air Emissions Accounts shows annual and seasonally adjusted quarterly greenhouse gas emissions resulting from each country’s economic activity. SEEA stands for the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting.
The Africa Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) Hub summarizes the NDCs of 56 countries on that continent. The Africa NDC Hub is administered by a technical committee and managed by a secretariat hosted at the African Development Bank.
The Climate Policy Database provides information on climate mitigation policies benchmarked against a matrix of model policies. Country pages indicate the degree to which policies have been adopted in five areas, such as “buildings,” and list the laws and regulations involved. The database is updated periodically. Maintained by New Climate Institute, a German NGO, with support from a Dutch university and government agency.
A 2022 study by Finnish scholars ranks countries “yes” or “no” on whether they took a more ambitious approach from 2016 to 2021. In a blog post, the authors wrote, “Measuring NDC enhancement is difficult as NDCs come in various formats and contain vastly different levels of information.”
You may find other critical assessments out there about your county, by local and regional groups or by academics. It is probably advisable to do some internet searching.
For example, broad-bush assessments were undertaken for three African countries, Ghana, Gambia, and Nigeria in a 2022 report, Beyond Rhetoric and Ambition Assessing the Feasibility of Climate Pledges by West African Countries, published by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development. Tobi Oluwatola, CJID Executive Director, said in an introduction that “the harsh realities of the local context — including the fiscal, cultural and infrastructural realities — make the NDCs seem more like pipe dreams, rather than well thought out strategies.”
Look for Specific Policy Goals
Stories need not cover the entirety of the country plans outlined in NDCs. These multifaceted strategies have many segments that can be examined individually.
For help on such stories, look to organizations that specialized on certain topics, for example deforestation or transportation. They can help assess policy strategies, discuss alternatives, and suggest local experts to consult. There is plenty of research out there about the emission-reducing plans affecting particular sectors of the economy. Some of this is in the reports cited above, but also try specific searches.
Ambition to Action is an example of a critical report by an NGO, this one focuses on the Indonesian government’s power generation plan to move from coal to solar. Supported by the German government, Ambition to Action, published a March 2022 report that analyzed the transition, saying it “could happen in four years, but also that a lack of concerted effort could delay this switch by 7-10 years.” The report further looks into barriers, high and low, and makes recommendations such as streamlining of permitting. Ambition to Action has done similar policy deep dives with the other three countries it focuses on: Argentina, Kenya, and Thailand. Ambition to Action has developed tools to help policymakers identify the benefits of mitigation actions in a range of sectors and themes. (See its 2021 annual report.)
Another potential source of information can be international financial institutions, who may be supporting country-level climate change projects. For example, this 2022 UNDP report briefly describes UNDP-supported projects in 23 countries, possibly a useful starting point to understand particular projects and how they are being implemented.
Pledges Outside of NDC Context
A variety of international initiatives exist on particular climate change topics. Participating countries may make promises in these contexts as well. But because some of these efforts started in the last few years, country participation may not be reflected in NDCs.
One of these is the Global Methane Pledge, which has garnered endorsements from more than 150 countries since it was begun in 2021. Reducing methane emissions is the single fastest way to fight climate change, according to climate scientists. Those joining agreed to an overall reduction target, but not to country-level targets. So the focus is turning from the number of pledge endorsements to actions the endorsers will take. (For more on this, see GIJN’s Guide to Investigating Methane.)
Another is the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), a coalition of national and subnational governments, businesses, and organizations working to phase out coal.
A larger list of these initiatives appears on page 17 of a 2022 report, Degree of Urgency: Accelerating Action to Keep 1.5°C on the Table, from the Energy Transitions Commission (ETC), “a global coalition of leaders from across the energy landscape.”
Also keep an eye out for sub-national initiatives such as the EU Mission: Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities. The EU provides funding for 100 selected cities. Project support comes from an EU-supported group, Net Zero Cities.
Potential stories could include whether your country has joined these initiatives and what they are doing as members.
Toby McIntosh is a senior advisor for GIJN’s Resource Center, which provides online resources to journalists worldwide. He was the editor of FreedomInfo.org, (2010-2017) a nonprofit website based in Washington, D.C. that covers international transparency laws. He was with Bloomberg BNA for 39 years and has filed numerous US Freedom of Information requests and has written about FOI policies worldwide. He is a steering committee member of FOIANet, a network of FOI advocates.