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Glossary & Jargon Buster:
Sustainability and Climate Risk

 


Simple definitions for the most frequently referenced terms, phrases, and acronyms.
Terms written in italics within an entry are defined elsewhere in the glossary. These definitions can be located using the search bar below.

Basics of Climate Change

Atmosphere

The layers of gases surrounding Earth. Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases. The atmosphere is where weather and climate...

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The layers of gases surrounding Earth. Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases. The atmosphere is where weather and climate processes occur. It is affected by both natural process and human activity.

Weather

The current state of the atmosphere at a specific place and time. All weather can be described by temperature, wind, moisture, precipitation, and pressure....

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The current state of the atmosphere at a specific place and time. All weather can be described by temperature, wind, moisture, precipitation, and pressure. Extreme weather, such as windstorms, floods, and droughts, can cause major damage to natural and built environments. The frequency and severity of extreme weather are increased by global warming and climate change.

Climate

The average state of the atmosphere at a specific place over a period of many years. The climate of a place is determined by its local and regional geography...

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The average state of the atmosphere at a specific place over a period of many years. The climate of a place is determined by its local and regional geography (including mountains and oceans) and planetary factors such as atmospheric composition, latitude, and orbital cycles. A place’s climate determines which species can and can’t live there, and how likely severe damage from weather is over time.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs)

Gases that trap the Earth’s heat in its atmosphere. The chemical structures of some gases cause them to absorb and re-emit the Earth’s heat when present in the...

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Gases that trap the Earth’s heat in its atmosphere. The chemical structures of some gases cause them to absorb and re-emit the Earth’s heat when present in the atmosphere. This is referred to as the 'greenhouse effect.' Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and agriculture, release GHGs into the atmosphere. GHGs released in this way are known as 'emissions.' Common GHGs include carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and fluorinated gases. The total amount of GHGs currently in the atmosphere is known as the "stock."

related terms: Greenhouse effect, Emissions, Stock

Global warming

Increases in the Earth’s average temperature due to the greenhouse effect. Global warming refers only to warming from human emissions, not natural processes....

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Increases in the Earth’s average temperature due to the greenhouse effect. Global warming refers only to warming from human emissions, not natural processes. Changes in global average temperature (and GHG emissions) are measured from the 'pre-industrial baseline,' referring to temperatures recorded between 1850-1900 (IPCC), before industrial processes began the widespread burning of fossil fuels. The direct consequences of global warming include climate change, sea-level rise, ecological change, and environmental degradation. As of 2021, the global mean surface air temperature has risen approx. 1.1oC due to human emissions (IPCC). International agreements typically seek to limit global warming to 1.5oC to prevent excessive economic, social, and environmental damage.

related terms: Pre-industrial baseline

Climate change

Changes in regional and global climate due to global warming. Although all climates have natural amounts of variability (referred to as 'natural variability'),...

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Changes in regional and global climate due to global warming. Although all climates have natural amounts of variability (referred to as 'natural variability'), climate change refers to changes that can be attributed to global warming. Global warming affects all climates on Earth. As surface temperatures increase, the rate of evaporation of water also increases. Together, these effects destabilize regional and global climates. This destabilization means that extreme weather is more frequent and more severe, causing significant economic, social, and environmental damage. Further global warming will continue to destabilize the global climate.

related terms: Natural variability




Basics of the Environment

Environment

The natural world or nature. Depending on the context, environment may refer to nature at the local, regional, or global scales. The environment is...

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The natural world or nature. Depending on the context, environment may refer to nature at the local, regional, or global scales. The environment is conceptually separate from human society and activities. The environment is changed by human activities, for example through global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation. In ecology, the environment is defined as the physical conditions surrounding life.

Ecosystem

A network of relationships between organisms, their environment, and other organisms. An ecosystem is usually defined by its primary environment (e.g. a desert...

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A network of relationships between organisms, their environment, and other organisms. An ecosystem is usually defined by its primary environment (e.g. a desert ecosystem, or a freshwater ecosystem). Ecosystems include living components (e.g. plants and animals) and non-living components (e.g. weather, water, rocks). The impacts of global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation are usually described at the level of the ecosystem.

Ecosystem services

The benefits human society derives from ecosystems. Ecosystems underpin, enable, and support almost all human activities. Ecosystem services can be divided...

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The benefits human society derives from ecosystems. Ecosystems underpin, enable, and support almost all human activities. Ecosystem services can be divided into four groups: provisioning services (e.g. food, drinking water, timber, natural gas), regulating services (e.g. water purification, pollination), cultural services (e.g. recreation, historical sites, heritage) and support services (e.g. water cycle, nutrient cycle).

Biodiversity

The degree of the variety of life in an ecosystem. If an ecosystem loses too much of its biodiversity, it also loses resilience to climate change and...

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The degree of the variety of life in an ecosystem. If an ecosystem loses too much of its biodiversity, it also loses resilience to climate change and environmental degradation. Biodiversity also decreases as global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation intensify. Reduced biodiversity increases the likelihood of ecosystem collapse, resulting in the loss of their ecosystem services. For example, the declining bee population in Maoxian County, China, has forced Chinese fruit farmers to hand pollinate their crops (Partap and Ya, 2012).

Environmental degradation

Reductions in the health and resilience of the environment (or an ecosystem) from human activity. Environmental degradation is also referred to as ‘ecological...

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Reductions in the health and resilience of the environment (or an ecosystem) from human activity. Environmental degradation is also referred to as ‘ecological degradation’. Environmental degradation includes the depletion and pollution of resources (e.g. soil, water, air), habitat destruction, and the extinction of species. A range of human activities directly cause environmental degradation, such as the extraction of raw materials (e.g. mining), waste from industrial processes (e.g. manufacturing by-products), and the consumption of natural resources beyond sustainable levels (e.g. overfishing). It is also caused indirectly by climate change (e.g. drought) and global warming (e.g. sea-level rise). To a lesser extent, it also occurs through natural processes (e.g. erosion).

related terms: Ecological degradation




Climate and Sustainability Solutions

Sustainability

Humankind meeting its economic needs without overburdening the environment or weakening societies. When a system (e.g. society) is sustainable, it works...

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Humankind meeting its economic needs without overburdening the environment or weakening societies. When a system (e.g. society) is sustainable, it works without disrupting the conditions that enable it to work (e.g. the natural world). Sustainability is an umbrella term, encompassing other concepts including adaptation, mitigation, conservation, resilience, and sustainable development.

Mitigation

Actions that minimize or remove the processes that cause global warming or climate change. Mitigation involves minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and/or...

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Actions that minimize or remove the processes that cause global warming or climate change. Mitigation involves minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and/or maximizing greenhouse gas sequestration. For example, mitigation can be achieved through technology (e.g. renewable energy), a policy (e.g. improving public transport), or a process (e.g. improving energy efficiency).

Adaptation

Actions that minimize or remove the negative impacts of global warming or climate change. Adaptation takes different forms depending on how well the potential...

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Actions that minimize or remove the negative impacts of global warming or climate change. Adaptation takes different forms depending on how well the potential damage is understood, and the type of damage it is designed to prevent. For example, a coastal city expecting sea-level rise and more frequent tropical storms, might invest in better flood and storm defences as a form of adaptation.

Geoengineering

Actions that actively manipulate the climate system to prevent global warming or climate change, despite continuing greenhouse gas emissions. Geoengineering...

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Actions that actively manipulate the climate system to prevent global warming or climate change, despite continuing greenhouse gas emissions. Geoengineering encompasses a variety of activities, ranging from simple to complex. There are two main categories of geoengineering. ‘Solar geoengineering’ involves the direct reduction in the amount of solar energy absorbed by the Earth (e.g. space reflectors). This form of geoengineering is typically avoided due to uncertain feedbacks and implementation issues. ‘Carbon geoengineering’ involves the removal of CO2 (or other GHGs) from the atmosphere (e.g. planting trees). Some techniques within this category of geoengineering are widely used (e.g. afforestation), whilst others (e.g. ocean fertilisation) are avoided due to uncertain feedbacks and implementation issues.

related terms: Solar geoengineering, Carbon geoengineering

Conservation

Actions taken to prevent or repair environmental degradation. The goal of conservation is to maintain the integrity of an ecosystem (or a component of an...

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Actions taken to prevent or repair environmental degradation. The goal of conservation is to maintain the integrity of an ecosystem (or a component of an ecosystem, such as a species) and its ecosystem services. Conservation can be applied to any part of the ecosystem, including its non-living components. For example, wild areas may be designated as nature reserves to protect their biodiversity, therefore increasing the stability of their ecosystem services (e.g. drinking water, timber, cultural significance). Conservation is a key strategy for minimizing the negative ecological impacts of global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Resilience

The ability of a system to absorb the impacts of global warming, climate change, or environmental degradation. Systems (e.g. society, a supply chain) achieve...

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The ability of a system to absorb the impacts of global warming, climate change, or environmental degradation. Systems (e.g. society, a supply chain) achieve resilience by adaptation – i.e. by anticipating, preparing for, and responding to the impacts of global warming or climate change. For example, a company might investigate their supply chain’s exposure to the negative impacts of climate change. Any subsequent actions that reduce their supply chain’s exposure or vulnerability would increase their resilience.

Development

Societal progress towards better socio-economic standards of living. Development takes many forms, including the guarantee of human rights, improvement of...

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Societal progress towards better socio-economic standards of living. Development takes many forms, including the guarantee of human rights, improvement of infrastructure, elimination of poverty and preventable disease, and the reduction of inequality. Development is primarily concerned with the socio-economic wellbeing and subjective satisfaction of the citizens of a nation-state. Development that explicitly emphasizes the preservation of the environment and the harmonization of human and natural processes is referred to as ‘sustainable development’.

related terms: Sustainable development




Transitioning to Net Zero

Parts per million (ppm)

The standard unit of measurement for the amount of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. For every million particles present in Earth’s atmosphere, a certain...

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The standard unit of measurement for the amount of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere. For every million particles present in Earth’s atmosphere, a certain number of those will be greenhouse gases. For example, 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 would indicate that there are 400 particles of CO2 for every million particles in Earth’s atmosphere. One ppm CO2 is equivalent to roughly 2.12 billion tonnes of atmospheric CO2 (IPCC).

Warming potential

A measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas can absorb and how long it stays in the atmosphere. For example, methane (CH 4) can absorb more heat than CO 2 but...

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A measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas can absorb and how long it stays in the atmosphere. For example, methane (CH4) can absorb more heat than CO2 but does not stay in the atmosphere as long. By expressing the warming potentials of all greenhouse gases as that of an equivalent amount of CO2 (the most abundant GHG), it becomes easier to calculate the total warming potential of the atmospheric GHG stock.

related terms: CO2 equivalent

Sequestration

The removal of greenhouse gases (usually CO2) from the atmosphere. Sequestration occurs through both natural and man-made mechanisms. Various natural...

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The removal of greenhouse gases (usually CO2) from the atmosphere. Sequestration occurs through both natural and man-made mechanisms. Various natural biological, chemical, and geophysical processes remove atmospheric CO2 and store it in ‘carbon sinks’, such as oceans or organic matter. For example, trees sequester atmospheric carbon as they grow. Human activities and technologies that sequester GHGs from the atmosphere are known as ‘negative emission technologies’ (NETs). In particular, NETs are recognized as an important method for reversing any overshoot of the 1.5oC warming limit (IPCC).

related terms: Carbon sinks, Negative emission technologies (NETs)

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR)

Actions taken to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Actions taken to remove other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere are referred to as ‘greenhouse...

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Actions taken to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Actions taken to remove other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere are referred to as ‘greenhouse gas removal’ (GGR). Both CDR and GGR are forms of carbon geoengineering. CDR can be achieved using both natural and technological processes. Natural processes can be used to increase net carbon sequestration (e.g. planting trees, preserving ecosystems). Technologies such as ‘direct air capture’ use chemical processes to extract and store carbon from air.

related terms: Greenhouse gas removal (GGR), Direct air capture

Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

The capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions (or other GHGs) before they enter the atmosphere. CCS usually takes place at factories or power plants with...

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The capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions (or other GHGs) before they enter the atmosphere. CCS usually takes place at factories or power plants with highly concentrated emissions. The goal of CCS is to prevent GHGs from entering the atmosphere in the first place, thus mitigating further global warming.

Decarbonization

The elimination or significant reduction of CO2 emissions from human activity. Decarbonization includes changes to human behaviour (e.g. diet, waste, travel,...

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The elimination or significant reduction of CO2 emissions from human activity. Decarbonization includes changes to human behaviour (e.g. diet, waste, travel, water intensity, energy intensity) and economic activity (e.g. agriculture, power, transport, supply chains, manufacturing). Decarbonization focuses on the ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels, in terms of both their direct use (e.g. in combustion engines) and indirect use for energy (e.g. coal-fuelled power plants). It also involves the adoption of renewable energy sources (e.g. wind, solar), the ‘electrification’ of technologies to enable them to use renewable energy (e.g. electric vehicles, electric heat pumps), and the development of new technologies (e.g. direct air capture) to mitigate emissions.

related terms: Transition, Electrification

Net-zero emissions

A balance between GHG emissions and GHG sequestration over a given period, resulting in no net increase in atmospheric GHGs due to human activity. Net-zero may...

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A balance between GHG emissions and GHG sequestration over a given period, resulting in no net increase in atmospheric GHGs due to human activity. Net-zero may apply at all levels, from the individual level to globally. Moving towards global net-zero emissions (and eventually, net-negative emissions) is an important goal of international climate diplomacy, to prevent further economic, social, and environmental damage from global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Carbon offset

Compensating for ongoing CO2 emissions from one activity by reducing or sequestering CO2 emissions through another. Carbon offsetting is often used when the...

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Compensating for ongoing CO2 emissions from one activity by reducing or sequestering CO2 emissions through another. Carbon offsetting is often used when the minimization of emissions is not or cannot be pursued through decarbonization. For example, many major airlines offset the emissions from their flights by planting trees to sequester atmospheric carbon, reducing their net contribution to the atmospheric stock of CO2.

Double materiality

The consideration of both climate change’s impacts on an organization, and the impacts of an organization on the climate. Double materiality can also apply to...

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The consideration of both climate change’s impacts on an organization, and the impacts of an organization on the climate. Double materiality can also apply to the organization’s relationship to the environment. Double materiality is an extension of the financial concept of materiality, wherein if information relating to a company is considered significant, it should be disclosed.




Basics of Climate Risk

Physical risk

The potential for negative consequences from the geophysical effects of global warming and/or climate change. An event (e.g. a storm) or trend (e.g. rising...

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The potential for negative consequences from the geophysical effects of global warming and/or climate change. An event (e.g. a storm) or trend (e.g. rising temperatures) that is a source of these potential negative consequences is known as a ‘hazard’. Physical risks are categorized as those arising from either ‘acute hazards’ or ‘chronic hazards’. Acute hazards relate to the increasing frequency and/or severity of extreme weather or weather-related events (e.g. hurricanes, floods). Chronic hazards relate to long-term trends, such as rising sea levels and average temperatures. The extent of the negative consequences of these hazards are determined by an organization’s or asset’s exposure and vulnerability. Physical risks can affect almost all forms of economic activity, as well as many financial assets, whether directly or indirectly. For example, real estate value would suffer from an area becoming exposed to flooding or drought due to climate change.

related terms: Hazard, Acute hazards, Chronic hazards

Transition risk

The potential for negative consequences from society’s adjustments (transition) to a lower carbon or net-zero economy. There are multiple different ‘drivers’...

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The potential for negative consequences from society’s adjustments (transition) to a lower carbon or net-zero economy. There are multiple different ‘drivers’ of transition risk. These drivers are grouped into four categories. ‘Policy and legal risks’ arise from i) policy changes made by governments or standard-setting bodies in relation to mitigation and adaptation (e.g. mandating the use of electric vehicles), and ii) litigation relating to the insufficiency of an organization’s mitigation of, adaptation to, or disclosures of the material impacts from global warming and/or climate change (e.g. a lawsuit against a carbon-intensive commercial project). ‘Technology risks’ arise from newer, lower-emissions technologies that outcompete or make redundant old technologies (e.g. the increasing cost-competitiveness of renewable energy versus coal-derived energy). ‘Reputational risks’ arise from stakeholders’ changing perceptions regarding what is considered acceptable conduct, in light of global warming, climate change, and/or environmental degradation (e.g. boycotts of firms with poor emissions records). ‘Market risks’ arise from changes to supply and demand for different products and services, and their subsequent effects on pricing, due to physical risks or other transition risks (e.g. decreasing demand for coal affects coal mining firms). The extent of the negative consequences of these drivers are determined by an organization’s or asset’s exposure and vulnerability.

related terms: Drivers, Policy risk, Legal risk, Technology risk, Market risk, Reputation risk

Exposure

The degree to which an organization or asset is likely to be negatively affected by a given hazard or driver. A hazard only becomes a physical risk and a...

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The degree to which an organization or asset is likely to be negatively affected by a given hazard or driver. A hazard only becomes a physical risk and a driver only becomes a transition risk when an organization or asset is both exposed and vulnerable. Physical risk exposure arises when assets and/or operations are located in areas where hazards are likely to occur (e.g. firms with facilities or supply chains in an area that is likely to flood). Transition risk exposure arises when assets and/or operations produce or rely on significant amounts of GHG emissions (e.g. firms that own fossil fuel power plants, or rely on large fleets of fossil fuel-based vehicles).

Vulnerability

The propensity of an organization or asset to be negatively affected from its exposure to a hazard or driver. A hazard only becomes a physical risk and a...

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The propensity of an organization or asset to be negatively affected from its exposure to a hazard or driver. A hazard only becomes a physical risk and a driver only becomes a transition risk when an organization or asset is both exposed and vulnerable. Physical risk vulnerability arises when exposed assets and/or operations are insufficiently adapted (e.g. firms without flood pumps installed at facilities exposed to floods, or lacking in flood insurance). Transition risk vulnerability arises when exposed assets and/or operations are insufficiently mitigated or disclosed (e.g. firms that are not decarbonizing, offsetting, or disclosing their emissions, or that have products that are easily replaced with others).

Scenario

A hypothetical construct outlining how the future might unfold were certain trends to continue or certain conditions to hold. Scenarios do not represent a full...

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A hypothetical construct outlining how the future might unfold were certain trends to continue or certain conditions to hold. Scenarios do not represent a full description of the future, but highlight the key features of a possible future, focusing on the most important factors which will drive future developments. ‘Scenario analysis’ is the process of identifying and assessing the potential implications of a set of possible futures. This is a useful tool when the future is uncertain, such as in the case of climate change where the future balance of physical and transition risks is unknown. Companies can use scenario analysis to explore how different outcomes might affect their business, strategy and financial performance.

related terms: Scenario analysis

Pathway

The hypothetical trajectory of an area of development, used as a tool in strategic decision-making. These areas include governmental, demographical,...

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The hypothetical trajectory of an area of development, used as a tool in strategic decision-making. These areas include governmental, demographical, technological, economic, political, and social development. Pathways are derived from current trends and assumptions in these areas. Pathways are usually expressed as narratives (i.e. possible sequences of events). These narratives can be used in scenario analysis, providing a logic to the process of selecting which scenarios to analyse. For example, a decarbonization scenario based on a pathway hypothesising low international climate co-operation, low climate technology innovation, and weak climate policy development, would likely be characterized as a low-to-zero decarbonization scenario.




IPCC Reports and Concepts

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

A United Nations intergovernmental body that assesses and synthesizes the body of scientific knowledge regarding climate change. Established in 1988, its...

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A United Nations intergovernmental body that assesses and synthesizes the body of scientific knowledge regarding climate change. Established in 1988, its self-described purpose is to “provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options”. The IPCC’s scientific reports play a significant role in climate science consensus and international climate diplomacy.

Assessment report (AR)

IPCC reports that assess and synthesize the scientific evidence for climate change’s causes, potential impacts, and response options. They are regarded as the...

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IPCC reports that assess and synthesize the scientific evidence for climate change’s causes, potential impacts, and response options. They are regarded as the most authoritative sources of scientific knowledge and policymaking guidance regarding climate change. Each report contains three sections (corresponding to the three IPCC ‘working groups’), i) the physical science basis, ii) impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, and iii) mitigation of climate change, plus a ‘synthesis report’ that summarizes the “current state of knowledge concerning the science of climate change” (IPCC), emphasizing new results.

related terms: Working groups, Synthesis report

Special report

IPCC reports that assess and synthesize the scientific knowledge and policymaking guidance around a single topic or issue. The IPCC has published special...

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IPCC reports that assess and synthesize the scientific knowledge and policymaking guidance around a single topic or issue. The IPCC has published special reports on a variety of subjects, such as the environmental impacts of climate change, adaptation and risk management, and negative emissions technologies. Like the assessment reports, the special reports are designed to synthesize scientific knowledge and inform policymaking, although the scope of the report is often much narrower.

Representative concentration pathways (RCPs)

A series of scenarios used by the IPCC, hypothesizing different atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants and land use by the...

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A series of scenarios used by the IPCC, hypothesizing different atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants and land use by the year 2100. Four RCPs were published in the Fifth Assessment report: RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5. Each RCP corresponds to a different level of total atmospheric ‘radiative forcing’ (a direct measurement of the greenhouse effect). As such, the RCPs each estimate different degrees of future global temperature increase. By 2100, the most severe pathway (RCP8.5) projects a median temperature increase of 4.3oC, and the mildest pathway (RCP2.6) projects a median temperature increase of 1.6oC (with reference to an 1850-1900 baseline).

related terms: Radiative forcing

Shared socio-economic pathways (SSPs)

A series of scenarios synthesized by the IPCC, hypothesizing different states of socio-economic prosperity and resilience by the year 2100 based on different...

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A series of scenarios synthesized by the IPCC, hypothesizing different states of socio-economic prosperity and resilience by the year 2100 based on different possible trajectories of development. Five SSPs were published in the Fifth Assessment report: SSP1 through SSP5. These five original SSPs reflect five different sets of socio-economic assumptions. A new set of five SSPs were published in the Sixth Assessment Report: SSP1-1.9, SSP1-2.6, SSP2-4.5, SSP3-7.0 and SSP5-8.5. These five new SSPs included indicative levels of radiative forcing alongside their socio-economic assumptions. The first number (SSPx-y) in the label corresponds to the particular set of socio-economic assumptions, and the second number (SSPx-y) is the level of atmospheric radiative forcing reached in 2100.




Climate Diplomacy

Climate diplomacy

Formal relations and engagements between two or more sovereign entities with the explicit aim of reducing or preventing the negative impacts of global warming...

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Formal relations and engagements between two or more sovereign entities with the explicit aim of reducing or preventing the negative impacts of global warming and climate change. Climate diplomacy is an umbrella term, encompassing a variety of foreign policy-based actions related to climate change, such as multilateral adaptation, mitigation, conflict prevention, foreign aid, and development cooperation.

Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs)

Agreements between more than two nation-states that address environmental issues. MEAs are the primary vehicle for consolidating national commitments towards...

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Agreements between more than two nation-states that address environmental issues. MEAs are the primary vehicle for consolidating national commitments towards the prevention of the negative impacts of global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation. These commitments – binding under international law – can be forms of development, adaptation, mitigation, or conservation.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) designed to enable global cooperation for the prevention of “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate...

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A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) designed to enable global cooperation for the prevention of “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UNFCCC). It is the foundational treaty of contemporary climate diplomacy. The UNFCCC was signed by 154 nation-states (plus the European Commission) at the ‘Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit’ in 1992. As stated in the UNFCCC, the ‘Conference of Parties (COP)’ (composed of the UNFCCC’s signatories) is the decision-making body that meets annually to ensure the effective implementation of the Convention (and any subsequent additions to the Convention). The COPs have produced notable MEAs that extend the scope of the original UNFCCC, including the Kyoto Protocol (COP3, 1997), Paris Agreement (COP21, 2015), and the Glasgow Climate Pact (COP26, 2021).

related terms: Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, Conference of Parties (COP)

Kyoto Protocol (COP3)

A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) signed at the 3rd Conference of Parties in 1997, and the first to add to the original UNFCCC. Notably, it...

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A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) signed at the 3rd Conference of Parties in 1997, and the first to add to the original UNFCCC. Notably, it emphasised the differentiation of mitigation and adaptation responsibilities between its signatories (a principle first introduced in the UNFCCC) by establishing legally binding emissions reductions commitments for developed countries only, and establishing an adaptation fund for developing countries.

Paris Agreement (COP21)

A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) signed at the 21st Conference of Parties in 2015. Notably, it set out two targets for global average temperature...

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A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) signed at the 21st Conference of Parties in 2015. Notably, it set out two targets for global average temperature increases from global warming (relative to the pre-industrial baseline): i) to keep the temperature increase to “well below” 2.0oC and ii) to “pursue efforts” to further limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC. Signatories are required to disclose the actions they will take to bring their emissions in line with these temperature targets. These disclosures are referred to as ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs). Furthermore, the agreement introduced a ratcheting system, wherein signatories would have to reassess and update their NDCs every 5 years, requiring greater mitigation ambitions each cycle. The agreement also emphasised the alignment of financial flows with a lower-emissions and more climate-resilient pathway, with developed countries committing to collectively pledge $100 billion a year towards adaptation and mitigation in developing countries until 2025.

related terms: Nationally determined contributions (NDCs)

Glasgow Climate Pact (COP26)

A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) signed at the 26th Conference of Parties in 2021. Notably, it was the first MEA under the UNFCCC to explicitly...

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A multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) signed at the 26th Conference of Parties in 2021. Notably, it was the first MEA under the UNFCCC to explicitly address the use of fossil fuels, with signatories being called upon to accelerate the “phasedown of unabated coal power” and “phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. The pact also reaffirmed commitments to the temperature increase limits introduced in the Paris Agreement: i) to keep the temperature increase to “well below” 2.0oC and ii) to “pursue efforts” to further limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC. Furthermore, noting the urgent need to reduce emissions (“global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century"), all signatories are required to reformulate their 2030 nationally determined contributions in line with these commitments.






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