Implications of sustainable development considerations for comparability across nationally determined contributions

  • Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages124129 (2018)
  • doi:10.1038/s41558-017-0039-z
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An important component of the Paris Agreement is the assessment of comparability across nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Indeed, game-theory literature on international environmental agreements highlights the need for comparable emission-mitigation efforts by countries to avoid free-riding1. At the same time, there are well-recognized links between mitigation and other national priorities, including but not limited to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)2,3,4,5,6, which raises the question of how such links might influence comparability assessments. Here, using a global integrated assessment model7, we demonstrate that geographical distributions of the influence of meeting the domestic mitigation component of the NDCs on a subset of the broader SDGs may not align with distributions of effort across NDCs obtained from conventional emissions-based or cost-based comparability metrics8,9,10,11. This implies that comparability assessments would be altered if interactions between mitigation and other SDGs were accounted for. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the extent to which these distributions differ depends on the degree to which mitigation activities directly affect broader SDGs domestically and indirectly affect international goals, and whether these effects are synergistic or antagonistic. Our analysis provides a foundation for assessing how comparability across NDCs could be better understood in the larger context of sustainability.

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The research described in this paper was conducted under the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a multiprogramme national laboratory operated by Battelle for the US Department of Energy. The authors are grateful to K. Riahi of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria for his comments on a previous draft of this manuscript.

Author information


  1. Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, College Park, MD, USA

    • Gokul Iyer
    • , Katherine Calvin
    • , Leon Clarke
    • , James Edmonds
    • , Corinne Hartin
    •  & Haewon McJeon
  2. School of Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

    • Nathan Hultman
  3. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Joseph Aldy
  4. Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA

    • William Pizer


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G.I., K.C., L.C. and J.E. designed the research. G.I. wrote the first draft of the paper. C.H. conducted ocean health analysis using the Hector model. All authors contributed to writing the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gokul Iyer.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Notes 1–12, Supplementary Figures 1–2, Supplementary Tables 1–4 and Supplementary References.

  2. Compiled Figure 1

    Figure 1 presented in a single panel [This Supplementary file initially published was corrupted and has now been replaced.]