Since the Paris Agreement of 2016, the international community’s main approach to addressing climate change is for states to determine their own commitments in a pledge and review system. Parties to the Paris Agreement formulate Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are documents that give details of their national policies and plans. They are free to formulate and present national policies as they choose, and as a result, there is substantial variation in the content and form of NDCs. This study presents a new framework for assessing and comparing the political meanings of these documents. The framework builds on two distinct ways in which NDCs can be understood. NDCs may be commitments to the international community and domestic actors. Alternatively, they may embody states’ negotiating positions in an ongoing process of national and international interactions. The framework consists of a set of thematic categories to which each sentence of these documents can be allocated. The application of this framework enables us to compare the political content of states’ NDCs systematically. The study demonstrates the validity of the framework by correlating its results with key characteristics of states. The findings also provide evidence for the two distinct perspectives on these documents.

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Author notes


We thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticism. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Boston and at the 2018 Pacific International Politics Conference in Hong Kong, and we thank the conference participants for feedback. We acknowledge research assistance from Airieanna Bates and Johan Englen. Thomson acknowledges support from the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, project grant MXM19-1137:1. Supplementary material, consisting of details of the coding framework and its application, is available here: https://doi.org/10.1162/glep_a_00585.