Glossary of climate terms
Tackling climate change shouldn’t be complicated.
We've put together a collection of key terms to help make sense of climate jargon to ensure you're in the know and using these terms correctly.
Climate change adaptation is the process of adjusting to the current or expected climate and its effects.
Additionality, in relation to carbon credits, refers to whether or not the avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions would have taken place, if the project didn’t exist.
If the emissions would have been avoided or removed anyway, then the project is unlikely to be able to demonstrate additionality. For example, if it’s a legal requirement local to generate electricity through renewable energy, then a wind farm project is unlikely to be able to prove that the emissions avoidance it claims wouldn’t have happened anyway.
Projects should aim for high additionality, so that funding provided by buying carbon credits is being used to make a meaningful difference.
Afforestation is the planting of trees in an area that was not historically covered by forests.
Beyond value chain mitigation (BVCM)
Beyond value chain mitigation (BVCM) refers to climate mitigation, action or investment that is undertaken as part of the net-zero journey. This includes activities that avoid or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and those that remove and store greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Examples include purchasing high quality carbon credits, reforestation or investing in research and development of climate technologies.
Created through the burning of biomass in an oxygen-deprived environment, biochar is a really stable form of carbon, that will not degrade for a long time, keeping the carbon locked safely away for hundreds of years.
Blue carbon is the carbon captured and stored by living organisms and sediments in coastal and marine ecosystems.
The Earth’s carbon budget refers to how much carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions it can tolerate in order to keep global warming below a certain level. The carbon budget is guided by the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
A tradable permit or certificate representing the measurable and verifiable emissions reduction of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The purchaser of a carbon credit can “retire” it to offset their emissions and claim the associated reduction towards their emissions reduction targets.
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are created by the activities of an individual, organisation or community. Your carbon footprint is expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
Carbon negative (alternatively referred to as climate positive) is the step beyond carbon neutrality, where you offset an amount more than the emissions you produce. This is typically achieved through carbon offsetting and the purchase of carbon credits. If your company currently produces 100 tonnes of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions per year, you can become carbon negative by purchasing >100 verified tCO2 per year from projects through Ecologi.
Negativity comes in degrees – sometimes companies will offset their emissions +1 (so in this case, offsetting 101 verified tCO2 per year would be enough for them to consider themselves carbon negative), but other times organisations might opt for a more conservative approach and ‘double offset’ the emissions (in this case, 200 verified tCO2 per year) to account for errors in emissions calculations.
An organisation is carbon neutral over a specified time period if it has achieved no net increase in the global emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through a combination of reduction, removal and avoidance of emissions equivalent to its own emissions within that time period.
Read our blog on Carbon-Neutral vs. Net-Zero to learn more.
Carbon offsetting refers to the process of compensating for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industrial or other human activity by financing projects designed to reduce or avoid an equivalent volume of GHGs from being emitted into the atmosphere, in exchange for carbon credits. Projects can achieve emissions reduction through removal, sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, or preventing the release of emissions at the source. Some examples include rainforest protection projects, renewable energy projects or direct air capture.
Read our blog on everything you need to know about carbon offsets.
Carbon reduction is the process of achieving permanent reductions in the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions an organisation produces. For example, this can be done by switching to more climate-friendly suppliers or adopting energy-saving technology/practices. Carbon reduction is a crucial step in the journey to net-zero. Among other criteria, The SBTi Net-Zero Standard requires 90% carbon reductions across scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 2050 to achieve net-zero.
The process in which carbon is removed from our atmosphere and stored away for a long period of time.
There’s currently no scientific consensus that specifies this time scale, but we’re generally referring to decades or more.
The storage time depends on the practice and/or the technology being used, and generally depends on whether the technique is categorised as natural carbon removal (which stores carbon for shorter lengths of time) or technological carbon removal (which can store carbon for longer periods of time).
Practices or technologies that remove CO2 are often described as enabling the achievement of ‘negative emissions’.
Carbon sequestration refers to the process of capturing and storing carbon from our atmosphere.
A natural or man-made area that accumulates and stores carbon. Often, this term refers to an area of land or ocean that is responsible for absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.
Anything that emits CO2 into our atmosphere. The most significant carbon source is the burning of fossil fuels.
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in global or regional climate patterns.
Climate change is not a new phenomenon, and has happened periodically over the course of the Earth’s history as a result of natural processes such as changes in the Sun’s radiation, volcanoes, and internal variability in the climate system. However, there is undeniable evidence that current climate change is due to human influences changing the composition of the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and intensive land use.
See carbon negative.
Climate Positive Workforce®
At Ecologi, we use the term Climate Positive Workforce® to mean that, having calculated the relevant footprints (in this case, that of your employees), the offsetting contribution you make totals or exceeds the full footprint amount, for each employee.
Seven greenhouse gases (GHGs) are listed by the Kyoto Protocol and each has a different global warming potential. The overall warming effect of this cocktail of gases is often expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent – the amount of CO2 that would cause the same amount of warming.
Collective action refers to collaborative behaviours adopted and efforts made by many people to reach a common goal. At Ecologi, collective action is the key ingredient to achieving our mission, because we understand the power and impact of people coming together to solve climate change.
Conference of the Parties (COP)
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Each year since 1995, the COP has been running a series of conferences dedicated to bringing governments together to discuss and review climate change.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a management concept whereby a company is committed and accountable for the effects of their activities on society and the environment.
Read our ideas on Corporate Social Responsibility here.
Direct Air Capture and Storage
Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACS) is a chemical process in which CO2 is captured directly from ambient air and stored long-term.
Environmental justice aims to address the unfair exposure and distribution amongst all people to harms associated with environmental issues and processes such as resource extraction, hazardous waste, air quality, and more. Issues of racism and equity are central to the concept of environmental justice, as well as the promotion of meaningful involvement with marginalised and indigenous communities.
Global Warming is the long-term increase in Earth’s average temperature. Since the industrial revolution, the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere has risen due to human activity, mostly through the burning of fossil fuels. The more GHGs in our atmosphere, the warmer the Earth will get.
The Gold Standard (GS) is a voluntary carbon offset program, established in 2003 by WWF and other international NGOs, focusing on projects of high environmental integrity and progresses on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Learn more about the Gold Standard here.
The greenhouse effect describes the process by which greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, CO2) trap radiation emitted from the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere it self and the clouds. The greenhouse effect is what makes the Earth habitable, but in recent years as a result of human activity, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions has resulted in an acceleration of the greenhouse effect and the subsequent warming.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
As the sun heats the Earth, the Earth’s surface releases heat back to space as infrared radiation. A greenhouse gas (GHG) is a gas such as carbon dioxide or methane which absorbs this infrared radiation, trapping heat in the atmosphere. Since the industrial revolution, the concentration of GHGs in our atmosphere has risen due to human activity.
As GHG concentrations increase, the warming effect they produce increases too. This long-term increase in Earth’s average temperature is known as global warming and has widespread and unpredictable impacts on the climate system.
The IPCC has identified more than 40 GHGs. However, only 7 GHGs are required to be reported under the GHG Protocol, having been targeted by the Kyoto Protocol: CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane), N2O (nitrous oxide), HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), PFCs (perfluorinated hydrocarbons), SF6 (sulphur hexafluoride), and NF3 (nitrogen trifluoride).
Greenwashing is a behaviour which, through making misleading or unsubstantiated claims, causes people to believe that an organisation or individual is generating a greater environmental benefit than they actually are.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the United Nations body responsible for assessing science related to climate change and advancing global knowledge on this topic.
In reference to projects which generate carbon credits, ‘leakage’ occurs when the project avoids or removes emissions within its project boundary, but increases them outside of it. For example, if an area of primary forest is protected to prevent emissions, but the adjacent area of forest starts to be chopped down instead as a result, then the project will have produced leakage.
Projects should aim for minimal or no leakage, in order to be considered high-quality.
Climate change mitigation refers to actions taken to limit global warming and its related effects.
Net-zero is a situation in which there is a balance between human-induced Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and carbon removals.
The critical difference between net-zero and carbon neutrality is the route to achieving this. Net-zero requires significant emissions reductions to be achieved* or to a residual level consistent with reaching net-zero emissions at the global or sector level in line with The Paris Agreement 1.5°C-aligned pathways. Any residual emissions should then be neutralised through carbon removals (sequestered in trees or via carbon capture technology, etc.).
*For most industries, zero gross emissions is not attainable, so realistically, The SBTi Net-Zero Standard requires a reduction of at least 90% by 2050 across the entire value chain, scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions (prorated against a 2018 base year).
Read our blog on Carbon-Neutral vs. Net-Zero to learn more.
Planetary boundaries are environmental thresholds established in order to sustain a safe and habitable planet for humankind. If these boundaries are crossed, irreversible environmental changes can occur with serious consequences. The nine planetary boundaries identified are:
- Climate change
- Change in biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and species extinction)
- Stratospheric ozone depletion
- Ocean acidification
- Biogeochemical flows (phosphorus and nitrogen cycles)
- Land-system change (for example deforestation)
- Freshwater use
- Atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms)
- Introduction of novel entities
Watch Netflix’s Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet documentary if you’d like to understand more about this concept.
Renewable energy is energy generated from natural, replenishable resources, such as the wind and the sun, rather than energy that is generated from finite energy sources like fossil fuels.
The Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, 2015. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels.
Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)
Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) is a fully-pledged carbon offset program developed and run by the global organisation Verra, founded in 2007, to ensure greater quality assurance in voluntary carbon markets.
Read our blog on the Verified Carbon Standard to learn more.
Zero-carbon refers to a situation in which no carbon is emitted as a result of an activity or operation.