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Climate change definitions

A list of helpful definitions to make climate change jargon a bit clearer


In terms of climate change, adaptation is defined as the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or anticipated climate change or its effects,

Carbon dioxide equivalent

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) is a metric to measure carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) based on their global warming potential. Methane and nitrous oxide are converted to equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide that would warm the earth to the same extent as carbon dioxide. This provides a common metric of measuring climate change effects of different gases. 


The average weather in an area over several years.

Climate change

Simply put climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.


Beginning in 1995 in Berlin, Germany, the United Nations has brought together nearly every state or regional economic integration organisation on the planet such as the European Union (known as parties) for global climate summits known as COPs, which stand for 'Conference of the Parties.'


The process by which individuals or other entities aim to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions. Typically refers to a reduction of the carbon emissions associated with electricity, industry, and transport.

Greenhouse gas (GHG)

Certain gases in the Earth's atmosphere that trap heat and prevent it from escaping into space. The 'greenhouse effect' occurs when these gases act as a warming blanket around the Earth. Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the three most significant GHGs. The Earth would be about 30 degrees colder than it is now if greenhouse gases were not present. However, since the Industrial Revolution, human activities have rapidly increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, trapping excessive heat. Instead of keeping the Earth warm and stable, the greenhouse effect is rapidly heating it.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Founded in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, IPCC, conducts global scientific and technical literature surveys and publishes assessment reports that are widely regarded as the most credible existing sources of information on climate change.


Climate change mitigation refers to actions by humans to avoiding and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere. Some examples include increasing energy efficiency in industrial processes or electricity generation, switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and improving building insulation.

Net-zero emissions

Net zero emissions’ refers to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere.

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015 at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, France. The agreement, which was adopted by 196 UNFCCC Parties, entered into force on November 4, 2016, and as of May 2018, had 195 Signatories and had been ratified by 177 Parties. One of the Paris Agreement's goals is to ‘hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,’ recognising that doing so would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.


In terms of climate change, a sink is a reservoir (natural or man-made, in soil, ocean, and plants) that stores a greenhouse gas, an aerosol, or a precursor of a greenhouse gas. In the UNFCCC, a sink is defined as any process, activity, or mechanism that removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol, or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere (see UNFCCC Article 1.8).

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC was adopted in May 1992 and opened for signature at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It entered into force in March 1994 and as of May 2018 had 197 Parties (196 States and the European Union).