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Climate Jargon Buster

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The increase in global temperature that scientists use as a projection for when we start to see devastating climate impacts and lasting changes. The aim is to keep below this number.



Refers to reducing the degree or intensity of greenhouse-gas emissions.



Preparing and coping with the impacts of climate change that can’t be reduced e.g. creating flood defences. Seeking to moderate harm to people and the planet or exploit beneficial opportunities.



Planting of new forests on land that has not recently been wooded.



A modification by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). If consensus cannot be reached, an amendment must win three-quarters of the votes of all Parties present and casting ballots.



Resulting from human activity, often called “man-made" or  “human-caused”.


Anthropogenic emissions

Emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants as a result of human activities, such as burning fossil fuels for energy and deforestation.



The 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2021/2022. The AR6 was preceded by the 5th Assessment report, published in 2013/2014.



We have all experienced extreme weather in our lives – storms, extreme rainfall, heatwaves or droughts. The question often arises of how these events are linked to climate change and whether we are likely to see more of them in the future. This field of research is called Attribution. It is the process of evaluating the relative contributions of multiple causal factors to a change or event where there is confidence in the data.



The variation of different life forms in an ecosystem or the planet as a whole.


Capacity building

In the context of climate change, capacity building is a process of developing the technical skills and resources of people and institutions to enable them to participate in all aspects of adaptation to, mitigation of, and research into, climate change.


Carbon budget

The total amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted into the atmosphere over a period of time to keep within a certain temperature threshold, for example 1.5°C.


Carbon capture and storage

A process involving the capture of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion or industrial processes before it is released into the atmosphere. The isolated CO2 is then transported and stored deep underground in geological formations.


Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

A naturally occurring gas, and also a by-product of burning fossil fuels and biomass. It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas that affects the Earth's climate.


Carbon footprint

The effect of human activities on the climate in terms of the net quantity of greenhouse gases generated through individual lifestyle choices.


Carbon market

A popular (but misleading) term for a trading system through which countries may buy or sell units of greenhouse-gas emissions in an effort to meet their national limits on emissions. The term comes from the fact that carbon dioxide is the predominant greenhouse gas, and other gases are measured in units called "carbon-dioxide equivalents".

It works by limiting (capping) how much greenhouse gases that groups of companies can use. It also allows companies to buy and sell (trade) carbon credits.


Carbon offset

A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, or an increase in carbon storage, is used to compensate for emissions occurring elsewhere.


Carbon sequestration

The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir, either a natural or artificial process.



Achieved when anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions are balanced globally by their removal over a specific period.



Convention on Biological Diversity.


Circular economy

An economy in which products, services and systems are designed to maximise their value and minimise waste. Resources flow in a circle (make, use, remake) rather than a line (make, use, dispose).


Clean energy

Energy from renewable sources whose use and production does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.



A way of summarising the average weather observed over a particular period of time at a particular location, ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorologi­cal Organization. The relevant quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, rainfall and wind.

While averages are useful, they don’t tell the whole story. We also need to summarise how much these elements might vary during the same period. This might include their range and information about the size of extreme events and how often they occur.


Climate change

Climate change relates to shifts in climate between different periods of time. Current interest has focused on observed warming of the global climate over the past 150 years. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forces such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions, and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.


Climate change impacts

Consequences of climate change on nature and people, such as rising sea level.


Climate feedback

Climate feedback is an initial process in the climate that leads to a change in another process, which then influences the initial one. There are many feedback mechanisms in the climate system that can either amplify (increase – ‘positive feedback’) or diminish (decrease – ‘negative feedback’) changes in the Earth’s climate.


Climate Impact Assessment

Identifying the consequences of climate change on nature and people, and evaluating how important they are.


Climate justice 

A term used for framing climate change as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature.


Climate model

The numbers and equations that describe the climate system, including the physics, chemistry and biology going on within it, how they interact and affect each other. The most comprehensive models include detailed descriptions of atmosphere, land, oceans, snow and ice and the biosphere, and we need powerful supercomputers to be able to use them.


Climate projection

A projection of the response of the climate system to emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, based upon calculations made by climate models.


Climate system

The climate system is made up of five major components: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the land surface and the biosphere.


Climate variability

Climate variability refers to variations in the average climate from year to year and decade to decade. Variations can be due to many things, including volcanic eruptions and events like the El Niño weather event.



Conference of the Parties. The supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It currently meets once a year to review the UNFCCC's progress. The word "conference" is not used here in the sense of "meeting" but rather of "association". The "Conference" meets in sessional periods, for example, the "fourth session of the Conference of the Parties."



A non-binding political statement made by ministers attending a major meeting.



Conversion of forest to non-forest.



Detection of climate change is the process of demonstrating that climate has changed in some way, without providing a reason for that change.



A system of living organisms interacting with their physical environment.



The human-caused release of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.


Emissions scenario

A plausible representation of the future development of emissions of substances that potentially influence the earth’s energy budget (e.g. greenhouse gases or aerosols). It is based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about driving forces such as demographic and socioeconomic development, technological change and their key relationships.


Energy budget 

The Earth is a physical system with an energy budget that includes all gains of incoming energy and all losses of outgoing energy. The Earth’s energy budget is determined by measuring how much energy comes from the Sun, how much energy is lost to space and accounting for the remainder and the energy flow between the atmosphere and the ocean or land surface.


ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance criteria)

The three factors used to measure the sustainability of an investment. Investors use ESG criteria along with financial considerations when analysing potential investments. Environmental criteria - how a company responds to environmental concerns. Social criteria - relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and the communities where a company operates. Governance criteria - a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.


Extreme weather event

An extreme weather event is an event that is rare in a specific area or time; typically only on 10% of occasions. These may include heatwaves, floods, droughts, hurricanes etc.



Forcing represents any external factor that influences global climate by heating or cooling the planet. It may be either natural or anthropogenic. Natural forcings include volcanic eruptions, solar variations and orbital forcing, where the amount of solar energy reaching Earth changes with orbital parameters eccentricity, tilt and precession of the equinox. Anthropogenic forcings include changes in the composition of the atmosphere and land-use change.


Fossil fuels

Carbon-based fuels from deposits, including coal, oil, and natural gas that release carbon dioxide when they are burnt.



Global Climate Observing System.



A broad set of methods and technologies that aim to deliberately alter the climate system in order to alleviate the impacts of climate change. Most, but not all, methods seek to either (1) reduce the amount of absorbed solar energy in the climate system (Solar Radiation Management) or (2) increase net carbon sinks from the atmosphere at a scale sufficiently large to alter climate (Carbon Dioxide Removal).


Global warming

The increase in global mean temperature, linked to the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.


Global warming potential (GWP)

An index representing the combined effect of the differing times greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere and their relative effectiveness in absorbing outgoing infrared radiation.


Green finance  

Finance that supports the allocation of capital to projects, investments or activities that aim to ensure a better environmental outcome.


Green recovery

Making the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic environmentally sustainable, with the intention to ‘build back better’. A green recovery focuses on long term policies and solutions that are designed to benefit both people and our planet.


Greenhouse effect

Greenhouse gases effectively absorb infrared radiation (heat), emitted by the Earth's surface, trapping heat at the surface of the Earth and the lower atmosphere, and increasing the temperature.


Greenhouse gas

Gases in the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of terrestrial radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere itself, and by clouds.



The fact that the climate system is slow to respond to things like human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide. This means that, even after emissions are reduced, the climate system will continue to change.


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Recognising the problem of potential global climate change the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988. The IPCC is made up of the world’s leading scientists in the field of climate change. The role of the IPCC is to assess and review scientific, technical and socio-economic information associated with human-caused climate change.


Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement between 183 countries adopted in 1997, which entered into force on 16 February 2005. Developed countries agreed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, and others) by at least 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.


Land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF)

A greenhouse gas inventory sector that covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from direct human-induced land use, land-use change and forestry activities.



The proportion of cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions by developed countries that may reappear in other countries not bound by such limits. For example, multinational corporations may shift factories from developed countries to developing countries to escape restrictions on emissions.


Loss and damage

At COP16 in Cancun in 2010, Governments established a work programme in order to consider approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework.



Causing a relatively small net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


Marrakesh Accords

Agreements reached at COP7 which set various rules for "operating" the more complex provisions of the Kyoto Protocol. Among other things, the accords include details for establishing a greenhouse gas emissions trading system; implementing and monitoring the Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism; and setting up and operating three funds to support efforts to adapt to climate change.



What human actions can be taken to prevent, reduce, slow down, stop or reverse climate change, for example by reducing the sources, or enhancing the sinks of greenhouse gases.


Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international agreement adopted in Montreal in 1987.


Nationally determined contributions (NDC)

According to Article 4 paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement, each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve. These are basically national mitigation plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Natural capital

The part of nature which directly or indirectly underpins value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, soils, minerals, the air and oceans, as well as natural processes and functions.


Nature-based solutions

Actions that provide benefits to nature whilst also addressing social challenges. Specifically, the protection, sustainable management and restoration of ecosystems that deliver benefits to both biodiversity and society.


Net Zero

The amount of greenhouse gases put into the air = the amount of greenhouse gases removed.


Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change signed by 192 Parties in Paris in 2015. The USA subsequently dropped out in 2020 but rejoined in 2021. The Paris Agreement's long-term temperature goal is to keep the rise in mean global temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperaute increase to 1.5°C. Countries pledged to reduce emissions as soon as possible and reach net zero in the second half of the 21st century. Each country must determine and report on its current emissions. There are also aims associated with improving the ability of parties to adapt to climate change and to mobilise finance to help those most affected.



A state (or regional economic integration organisation such as the European Union) that agrees to be bound by a treaty and for which the treaty has entered into force.



The presence of any substance in air, water, soil or food, which makes it harmful to people or nature.



The official of a member government elected by the Parties to preside over the COP and the CMP (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol) or CMA (Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement). The President is often a senior official or minister from the state or region hosting the Conference. The President may not participate in the negotiations as a representative of the member government during the term of the presidency.



An international agreement linked to an existing convention, but as a separate and additional agreement which must be signed and ratified by the Parties to the convention concerned. Protocols typically strengthen a convention by adding new, more detailed commitments.



Formal approval, often by a Parliament or other national legislature, of a convention, protocol, or treaty, enabling a country to become a Party. Ratification is a separate process that occurs after a country has signed an agreement. The instrument of ratification must be deposited with a "depositary" (in the case of the Climate Change Convention, the UN Secretary-General) to start the countdown to becoming a Party (in the case of the Convention, the countdown is 90 days).



Replanting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use.


Renewable resource

A resource that cannot be depleted or is naturally replenished rather quickly.


Representative Concentration Pathways

Four greenhouse gas concentration trajectories adopted by the IPCC for its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), published in 2013/2014. RCP2.6, RCP4.x, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5 are named after a possible range of radiative forcing values in the year 2100 (e.g. 2.6W/m2), relative to pre-industrial levels.



In the context of climate change, resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events, trends or disturbances related to climate.


Science-based targets

A carbon emissions target that is in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.



Any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Forests and other vegetation are considered sinks because they remove carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.



Finding a way to keep the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere constant.


Sustainable development

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.


Sustainable development goals (SDGs)

17 goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.


Tipping point

A hypothesised critical threshold when global or regional climate changes rapidly from one stable state to another stable state. The tipping point event may be irreversible.



A state of incomplete knowledge that can result from a lack of information or from disagreement about what is known or even knowable. It may have many types of sources, from imprecision in the data to ambiguously defined concepts or terminology, or uncertain projections of human behaviour.


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

A Convention signed by more than 150 countries in 1992. Its ultimate objective is the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.



The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.



The state of the atmosphere at a specific time and place, with regards to variables such as wind strength and direction, temperature, precipitation and pressure.



A process that emits no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


Source: MetLink climate glossary,  UNFCCC glossary of climate change acronyms and terms  and Science Council COP26 Jargon Buster


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