The UN isn't just the preserve of the world's most respected governments. It is easy to forget that the world's most troublesome states are also actively involved in the UN, and easy to assume they spend their time actively trying to sabotage dialogue. Unpaletable governments often do attempt to shut down dialogue within the UN, but it is easy for us not to notice the active part they usually plan within the UN's organisations, institutions and processes. 

Read: The State of the Paris Agreement Post-Trump

Rogue and Pariah states are, by most definitions, all members of the UN and members of the UNFCCC. The vast majority submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs- a form of climate plan) before the Paris Climate Conference. In fact, some have now ratified the Paris Agreement. But what did they say, and what do they want out of it?

North Korea is known for elaborate military parades, military posturing and machiavellian maneuvering. The hermit state is not known for environmental policy. Stephan/Flickr

North Korea

We don’t think of North Korea as a front runner in the global green power race. That’s partly because any kind of economic growth in North Korea has been entirely built on the burning of fossil fuels for generations. In 2015, they submitted an INDC to the UNFCCC, along with over 190 other countries.

North Korea’s INDC begins with a quote from the ‘respected comrade Kim Jong Un’, and is littered with spelling and grammar errors. Other than that, it doesn’t seem too implausible. A document setting out clear and ambitious plans for climate mitigation and adaptation, and putting forward proposals for additional measures should they receive international funding.

As you might expect, there are a few major issues that didn’t receive coverage at the time. The two largest mitigation measures listed refer to building a 2000mw nuclear power station and 1000mw of solar panels before 2030.

Unlike other INDCs, the North Korean entry did not include any base year to measure voluntary reductions from. Those voluntary reductions would reduce the DPRK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 8%* by 2030. Measures listed that would require international support would reduce emissions by 40%* by 2030. North Korea ratified the Paris Agreement in August 2016, and this INDC became an NDC.

There are no mechanisms to ensure that any nation sticks to their climate targets. NDCs are binding insofar as countries are legally required to report greenhouse gas emissions and progress to the UNFCCC. Effectively, countries must target their NDC plans, but if they miss there’s no significant penalty beyond a stern public statement from a UN agency. North Korea’s NDC requires less reporting and targeting than the vast majority of other countries’ NDCs.  

Claims made by the North Korean government induce eye-rolls for a reason, so asking North Korea to start reporting on greenhouse gas emissions or on infrastructure delivery seems somewhat unwise. In terms of solar panels, the regime has form and has claimed to be more technologically advanced than any other nation on earth. In 2015, the country released pictures of a new solar powered bus. It looks laughable, and the claims made by local officials about it were ridiculed by experts.

That being said, the regime released a series of new slogans at the start of 2015. Intermingled with the usual totalitarian stuff, there were a series of new green slogans. At the time, analysists suggested that North Korea may be targeting green energy as a means to ensure energy security- as an isolated nation without significant natural gas, coal or oil supplies.

Read: Green Slogans and Renewables - What's Kim up to? 

It is difficult to look past North Korean claims that they will continue to develop nuclear energy as part of their climate mitigation actions. In the past, these claims have simply been a smokescreen to disguise the country’s weapons programmes. This is still the case, though the country has recently been more brazen about the true purpose of its nuclear and ‘space’ programmes.

The North Korean government seems to want three things from the Paris Agreement. Firstly, to hide structural flaws in the nation’s economy. Secondly, to strengthen North Korean energy security- and build a functioning power grid- in the face of sanctions, seeking international finance to do so. Thirdly, to in some way legitimise the nation’s nuclear weapons programme.

*A small proviso on the numbers; where the UNFCCC worked with North Korean officials to create this INDC, I would still take any claim made by the North Korean government with a pinch of salt


The Iranian army displays missiles in a military parade in front of the mausoleum of revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, in April. Chavosh Homavandi/AFP/Getty Images


The Iranian INDC had a very clear, and again distinct, message. They don’t like sanctions.

The document begins by blaming the country’s failure to already reduce greenhouse emissions on ‘unjust sanctions’, which hamper Iranian access to the financial markets, and the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. There is also a somewhat odd line through the document claiming that the country’s population is young, with no real explanation as to how that impacts climate actions.

‘Unjust’ sanctions are a running theme throughout the document, which are both blamed for past failures to reduce emissions and future failures to reach goals.

Greenhouse gasses are, according to the contribution, to be reduced by 4% by 2030 (using 2010 levels as a base) compared to a business as usual approach regardless of international support. Yet there is no solid explanation as to how this is to be achieved. Much like North Korea’s submission, nuclear power is mentioned, but in Iran’s case fleetingly as part of a list included in a single paragraph as to how emissions are to be reduced. A list that also includes ‘development of renewable energies’ as a detailed solution. We do know that this is going to cost;, somewhere in the region of $17.5 billion without international support and $52.5 billion with international support.

As noted in the INDC, Iran’s fifth Five Year Plan (2010-2015) failed to reach its emissions reductions goals. In fact, emissions rose during that time. Blamed in the document on ‘unfair sanctions’ this seems to be a threat to other countries- lift sanctions, or we won’t reduce emissions.

Read: All things Iran 

Adaptation wise, there isn’t much more detail. We do know that the adaptation portion will cost roughly $140 billion; $100 billion on water resources and $40 billion on ‘improving the environment’, ‘environmental protection’ and ‘food security’. There is no explanation of what this will mean.

New technologies are noted, though, including the need for new ‘eco’ climate smart agriculture practices, and access to environmentally sound technologies for industry.

Iran does face significant threat from climate change. Where its economy is based largely on oil production, food and water security will take a hit from the effects of global temperature rises and issues with soil, which may also make the risk of sand and dust storms more likely, and may- coupled with human factors- increase the risk of desertification.

It is, however, clear that the government of Iran is less interested in climate adaptation or mitigation than it is in sanctions. In this 9 page document, sanctions are mentioned 7 times. The UNFCCC opened the process up to this kind of submission by allowing such freedom in the formulation of INDCs- there was no template and few rules, so countries could tailor their plans to their specific interests and concerns.

After Iran submitted its INDC, the majority of sanctions were removed. The country has not ratified the Paris Agreement or submitted an NDC at this point.



Mugabe, Zimbabwe's charismatic leader, has built a personality cult and authoritarian regime strong enough to withstand crippling economic failure. AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi


Zimbabwe’s INDC paints a slightly different picture. Zimbabwe has a lot to lose from climate change, as a largely agrarian state set to face significant climate variability. Once the breadbasket of Africa, the nation has seen agriculture become markedly inefficient under Mugabe. Food security is already in a precarious state.

Farming accounts for 40% of GDP, 40% of export earnings and 60% of the materials used in the country’s manufacturing sector (figures from Zimbabwe's INDC). Most climate models suggest that Zimbabwe will see temperatures increase by roughly 2.5 degrees by the 2050s, and rainfall may decrease.

This is while hydro-electric power generated by sources vulberable to rainfall variation resulting from climate change account for 30% of Zimbabwe’s electricity supply. Zimbabwe's INDC indicates that hydro-electric sources account for 60% of the country's electricty supply all together. 

Read: Climate models could have predicted drop in Lake Kariba's water levels

Unlike North Korea, Zimbabwe is at a climate change cross roads- and the decision makers know it. Without appropriate adaptation measures now, the already unavoidable rises in temperature caused by historic and planned for emissions will have a devastating effect on food production and possibly electricity generation.

The Zimbabwean INDC stresses the weakness of the agricultural sector, and the need to build resilience from the threat of water stress, flooding and other extremes such as frost and hail. As so, strengthening water resources, disaster management practices and encouraging climate compatible agriculture techniques are stressed.

Famine is never too far away in modern Zimbabwe, for a variety of reasons. Inefficient practices, poor land use reforms and poor infrastructure has made the country’s food security a major concern already. From 2000 - the first year of Zimbabwe's land use reforms - to 2007, agricultural production fell by 51% (according to a University of Zimbabwe study). Increase climate variability caused by climate change is likely to cause more major disasters such as failed crops and floods, while temperature increases are set to hit the country’s agricultural capacity.

Zimbabwe’s mitigation portion includes replacing lightbulbs, micro-hydro projects (which are less vulnerable to climate change, and could flexibly meet growing electricity demand), increasing capacity in pre-existing large hydro-plants and constructing biogas digesters.

The construction of power generation infrastructure that will be minimally affected by or large enough to absorb the effect of climate change is an important goal. In securing the power supply now, the degree of the impact of climate change on the country will be lessened significantly. There are already issues with electricity supply in Zimbabwe.

Mitigation is crucial for future prosperity in Zimbabwe. Without strategic planning now, and action to ensure that infrastructure today is resilient and able to reduce the size of the impact or degree of climate change, the country’s economic and social problems will quickly deteriorate. For example, large hydroelectric projects in the country provide a significant proportion of the energy mix, yet their power output is likely to be greatly diminished by the effects of climate change on the seasons and water supply.

Again, this portion comes with an asterisk. The INDC makes clear that most mitigation options are only viable with suitable international climate finance and support, and that Zimbabwe intends to sell carbon credits in the regional or international market. As things stand, the international reputation of the Zimbabwean regime and of corruption within the country would make the stable sale of Zimbabwean carbon credits incredibly difficult.



Russia annexed Crimea during the Ukraine crisis. Reuters


Crimea, a part of Ukraine annexed by the Russians in 2014, is not a country by any measure. Yet that didn’t stop documents being submitted on behalf of Crimea to the UNFCCC in the run up to the Paris Conference.

The Russians kicked things off by submitting a very odd document to the UNFCCC; three pages in Russian, a middle page in English. The document seems to say nothing about climate change, instead making what look like illiterate claims about Crimean sovereignty. The document was produced by the Russian Environment Ministry.

The Ukrainians replied with a nearly-a-whole page fax, including the phrase ‘so called referendum’, which pretty much just says that Crimea is not part of Russia. Very climate-ey.



Syria was among the countries not to submit an INDC. The country is in the middle of a bloody and complex civil war. Karl-Ludwig Poggemann/Flickr

Who didn't submit an INDC?

Not all rogue or pariah states submitted an INDC. The UNFCCC did not demand nations to submit climate plans, but rather invited those ‘in a position to do so’ to submit before the Paris Conference. Over 190 countries submitted an INDC, including several in the middle of wars. Of those that didn’t, Nicaragua stands out as a non-rogue state (whose political leaders decided that the processes were unfair, and so sought to delegitimise any agreement that wouldn’t put the entire burden of climate mitigation on developed states before they had even seen an agreement). Other than that, some of the usual suspects make an appearance.

Syria did not submit an INDC, which isn’t surprising. The Syrian government is already considered effectively illegitimate by a significant portion of UN states. Unlike other rogue states, Assad’s regime has to gain little by writing up a climate plan. There are no weapons programmes to cover up, no avenues to use the agreement to legitimise the regime and no prospects for international grants and funding for infrastructure projects.

In many ways, the Syrian government wasn’t supposed to submit an INDC. Unlike other countries in the middle of civil wars, the government’s grip on territory was questionable in 2015. The climate information needed to formulate an INDC was simply unattainable. In 2017, they are making gains but government territory is not shielded enough for major construction works (while recent developments make further Western action against Assad's regime more likely). This civil war could well still last, in some form that makes major infrastructure projects impossible, for decades. There are few meaningful ways in which the government could make a legitimate climate plan, even if it wanted to, and there is no guarantee that the current government will still be there in 2030.

Editor in Chief, Great British Politics.
Political commentator. Ba (Hons) Modern History and Politics. Spent a lot of time on the campaign trail, for various parties. Spent a lot of time working for charities and NGOs. In search of a new picture.

- Adam Hyde