Nov 17, 2010

A short glossary of climate terms

by PhilLee — last modified Nov 17, 2010 04:31 PM

There are hundreds of acronyms and word combinations that are baffling to all but the most seasoned climate talks follower. Where possible we try and explain the meaning of all the climate terms as they arise. However, should you find an acronym or a term that makes no sense, you will hopefully find its definition in this list.


Wealthy nations legally bound to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the U.N. Kyoto Protocol. They are responsible for the vast majority of GHG emissions historically and thus the most responsible for climate change. In the UNFCCC they are listed as 'Annex I countries'.


All the 'non-Annex I' countries of the globe, from China and India to the Least Developed Counties (LDCs). They are historically the least responsible for climate change.


ADAPTATION (to climate change)

Actions countries take to adapt to the impacts of climate change.


The main greenhouse gas. The other main ones include nitrous oxide and methane.


CDM (Clean Development Mechanism)

A mechanism used by developed countries to try to ‘offset’ their emissions. The CDM is riddled with loopholes and leads to increased emissions globally.



Speculative market where carbon certificates are traded.


Paying someone else to reduce their carbon emissions instead of cutting your own. If carbon offsetting worked optimally it would lead to zero net emissions. This system has been proved not to work but most importantly, does not lead to emission cuts. It therefore allows business to pollute as usual.


Developed nations owe a climate debt to developing ones because developed countries have emitted the vast majority of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere.  Since this is far more than their ‘fair share’ and developed countries have over-occupied their slice of the carbon budget, it is considered a ‘debt’ that the developed world owes the developing one.


This debt must be repaid not only through money to help developing countries adjust to and prepare for climate change damage and to embark on clean energy pathways, or technology and knowledge to help build green economies, but also through action – cutting the emissions in the developed world.



Climate Justice means addressing the climate crisis using a rights-based approach. Climate justice will be achieved when the developed countries reduce their consumption and their control of the world's resources through real solutions rather than false solutions which continue to privilege a minority of the world's population.


Climate justice will be achieved when the perpetrators support the people who have to adapt to impacts of climate change. Climate justice requires a global transformation away from dominant development and economic paradigms to recognising all people’s right to a dignified life within ecological limits.



The gases which cause the 'greenhouse effect' which is the main cause of climate change. The main GHGs are carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane.


MITIGATION of climate change

Actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.



Large scale area planted with only one tree species.  They are even-aged, even-spaced plantings - often exotic tree species - which decrease the biodiversity of birds and insects in the area and tend to require the intensive use of chemicals to maintain them. This is not a forest but rather a ‘green desert’. 


The People's Agreement

An agreement that came out of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April this year. The agreement is seen as a counter-balance to the overwhelmingly negative proposals on the table in the UN climate talks. Find out more




A market-based mechanism to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation in developing countries. REDD allows developed countries to offset their carbon emissions by purchasing forest carbon credits from developing countries.


Including forests in carbon offsetting initiatives allows developed countries to buy up forests whilst continuing to pollute.  It is ineffective, dangerous, and undermines efforts to stop climate change and halt deforestation.



The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the name given to the climate talks conducted by the United Nations that take place at various times throughout the year. The meetings where the agreements are adopted are the COPs (conference of the parties) that take place in late November/early December each year. Last year COP15 was in Copenhagen, this year COP16 is in Cancun and next year COP17 will be in Durban, South Africa.