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Climate Litigation and Nationally Determined Contributions: Above and Beyond Accountability

Jorge Alejandro Carrillo Bañuelos


In 2021, a court suspended the updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that the Mexican Government submitted to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC), arguing that it could be incompatible with the right to a healthy environment and the Paris Agreement. The court highlighted that the updated NDC could be considered less ambitious than the previous one even though it had to represent a progression and reflect the highest possible ambition. This is not an isolated case in global climate litigation. For instance, in 2021, several young activists requested an injunction against the updated NDC presented by the Brazilian government in 2020. According to the plaintiffs, this submission was less ambitious than the previous one and allowed the country to reach the year 2030 with additional emissions of 200 to 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Similar cases are pending in Brazil, New Zealand, and Turkey. This kind of litigation illustrates that plaintiffs in several jurisdictions are challenging the content and level of ambition of the NDCs. The role that domestic courts can play in advancing the goals of international law instruments such as the Paris Agreement has been explored in legal scholarship and is well-documented in the global climate litigation databases. However, the role that courts can play in determining the compatibility between the Paris Agreement and the NDCs has received less attention. This has left important questions unanswered, including; what remedies can a court order if it determines that an NDC is inconsistent with the Paris Agreement? What legal effects should the judgment have? Do these decisions have to be reported to the UNFCCC secretariat? Should it be part of the transparency framework of the treaty? This article intends to address these questions by considering several climate litigation cases. This analysis will show that the relationship between litigation and NDCs goes ‘above and beyond’ the domestic enforcement of these climate pledges.

LL.M., Harvard Law School, Class of 2022. LL.B., Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas. For Correspondence: <>.


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