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Do You Know These Climate Change Buzzwords?

Are you interested in saving the environment? Do you practice your bit to reduce global warming and save the planet? If you answered yes to these questions, then you need to learn the language of climate change.

We, at THRIVE, are eager to educate, engage, and inform our audiences about the latest in climate change and action. With each year and with technology growth, the jargon around climate action changes. It can be overwhelming trying to keep up with all the technical, theoretical, and scientific terms in articles and media discourse. That’s why we have compiled a glossary of climate change-related terms to help you understand the basics.

A quick skim of our glossary and you will be on your way to grasp some of the complex technical jargon used by media and the industry.

Climate Change- Climate Change refers to a significant change in the measure of climate for an extended period of time. It can be major changes in temperature and wind patterns, for example, stretching for a period of a decade or several decades or longer.

SDG 13- One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) defined by the United Nations, SDG 13 is about taking action to combat climate change and its impacts. It requires mobilising US$100 billion annually by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries in moving towards a low-carbon economy. This will provide developing countries the funds and resources required to transition to climate change and action for a better future.

Abrupt Climate Change- Sudden or large changes in the major components of climate having widespread or devastating effects.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)- The most abundant of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide is produced as a by-product of gas and oil production, burning fossil fuels, and biomass. Carbon dioxide is also produced by animals, plants, and organisms.

Greenhouse Gas- Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere is called a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.

Greenhouse Effect- Greenhouse effect is a term that describes how the natural gases in the Earth’s atmosphere allow infrared radiation to warm the Earth’s surface, but they also prevent heat from escaping the atmosphere of the Earth. This is contributing to climate change.

Global Warming- The ongoing global average increase in temperature around the Earth’s surface.

Fossil Fuel- A generic term for organic materials in decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth’s crust over hundreds of millions of years.

Emissions The release of a substance (usually a gas) into the atmosphere. Emissions could be direct, for example burning fossil fuels for energy (Scope 1), or indirect, such as consumption of electricity (Scope 2) from other sources or transport (Scope 3) purchased or that are owned by another source/company.

A protest sign urging companies to quit using fossil fuels. Image Source-Unsplash

Deforestation- The practices or processes that refer to the conversion of forest lands for non-forest uses (often commercial purposes). Deforestation is a major contributing factor to the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide.

Carbon Credit- A carbon credit is a permit that allows an organisation or a company to emit a certain amount of carbon or other greenhouse gas emissions and that can be traded if the full allowance is not used.

Carbon Footprint- A form of calculation relying on carbon dioxide that is produced by a business, country, or industry. Carbon footprints measure direct and indirect emissions from the entity in question.

Carbon Tax- A form of a carbon price on greenhouse gas emissions, where certain sectors pay a fixed price to the government. Often this price or cost is passed on by the organisation to the consumers.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)- Established in 1992, UNFCC has 197 signatory parties and focused on stabilising the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.

Landfill- Land waste disposal site where waste is usually spread in thin layers, compacted, and covered with a fresh layer of soil each day.

Natural Gas- Underground deposits of gases consisting of 50% to 90% methane and small amounts of heavier gaseous hydrocarbon compounds, such as propane and butane.

Greenwashing- Also referred to as ‘green sheen’, greenwashing refers to false or misleading impressions given by a company with regards to their products or processes being environmentally sound or friendly.

Kyoto Protocol- Linked to the UNFCC, the Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement aimed at stabilising atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, requiring separate ratification by governments. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force for ratifying countries by February 2006. It sets binding targets for reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by industrialised countries. Kyoto Protocol expected developed countries to collectively cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% of 1990 levels by 2008-2012.

Carbon Sequestration- Carbon sequestration is the capture and long-term storage of carbon in forests and soil or in the oceans. Through the process of photosynthesis, trees and other plants sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow.

Carbon Neutral- A voluntary mechanism where an activity, household, business, or corporation is responsible for no net emissions of greenhouse gases and can, therefore, be declared carbon neutral in that specific area. Carbon neutrality can be achieved by reducing emissions as far as possible (e.g. energy efficiency or purchasing renewable energy), and then purchasing offsets for any residual emissions in order to achieve zero net emissions.

Anthropocene- The ‘Anthropocene’ is a proposed new geological epoch resulting from significant human-driven changes to the structure and functioning of the Earth’s system, including the climate system. The Anthropocene concept has been taken up by various disciplines and the media to denote the substantive influence humans have had on the state and future of the Earth’s system.

Paris Agreement- The Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC was adopted in December 2015 in Paris, France, at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC. One of the goals of the Paris Agreement is ‘Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’, understanding that this would effectively reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

1.5°C pathway- A pathway of emissions of greenhouse gases and other climate forcers that provides an approximately one-in-two to two-in-three chance, of global warming either remaining below 1.5°C or returning to 1.5°C by around 2100 following an overshoot.

Climate Adaptation- The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or gain benefits is referred to as climate adaptation. Human intervention often facilitates adjustment to expected climate and its effects.

Carbon Sinks- Carbon sinks are natural systems that suck up and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The main carbon sinks are plants/trees, ocean, and the soil.

Climate Mitigation- Man-made interventions to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.

Net-Zero Emissions- Net-zero emissions are a result of emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere that are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. Where multiple greenhouse gases are involved, the quantification of net-zero emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare the emissions of different gases, such as the global warming potential, the global temperature change potential as well as the chosen time horizon.

Decarbonization- The process by which countries, individuals, or other organisations aim to achieve zero fossil carbon existence. It usually reflects a reduction in the carbon emissions that are associated with electricity, industry, and transport.

Wicked Problem- A wicked problem often refers to a social, cultural, political, or economical problem that is impossible to solve. This happens due to incomplete or contradictory information and knowledge, multiple number of actors and the people involved as well as a large economic or financial burden and the intersectionality of these problems with other problems and dimensions. Climate change has been deemed a ‘wicked problem’ due to the mammoth challenges ahead of us.

That’s our short and sweet glossary of the latest buzzwords in climate change. Understanding and learning these terms can go a long way in fighting the good fight with us folks at THRIVE. Our mission remains to encourage sustainability among global audiences and you can read some more interesting articles about climate change on our blog this month. Do share, repost, or comment if you liked this article!


  • Shikha Pandey

    Shikha wants to make everyone’s life better. She is currently a student at Monash University and hopes to use her research, marketing, and writing skills to identify and communicate areas that need improvement within the sustainability and development sphere.