Science & Environment

Climate change glossary: K-W

How does adaptation differ from mitigation? And what is REDD? The jargon of climate change can be hard to grasp. Use this glossary to decode it.


Kyoto Protocol A protocol attached to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets legally binding commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialised countries agreed to reduce their combined emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. It was agreed by governments at a 1997 UN conference in Kyoto, Japan, but did not legally come into force until 2005.


LDCs Least Developed Countries represent the poorest and weakest countries in the world. The current list of LDCs includes 49 countries - 33 in Africa, 15 in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin America.

LULUCF This refers to Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry. Activities in LULUCF provide a method of offsetting emissions, either by increasing the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (i.e. by planting trees or managing forests), or by reducing emissions (i.e. by curbing deforestation and the associated burning of wood).


Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate A forum established in 2009 by US President Barack Obama to discuss elements of the agreement that will be negotiated at Copenhagen. Its members - Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the US - account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. The forum is a modification of the Major Economies Meeting started by the former President George Bush, which was seen by some countries as an attempt to undermine UN negotiations.

Methane Methane is the second most important man-made greenhouse gas. Sources include both the natural world (wetlands, termites, wildfires) and human activity (agriculture, waste dumps, leaks from coal mining).

Mitigation Action that will reduce man-made climate change. This includes action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or absorb greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.


Nairobi work programme The Nairobi work programme on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change is a five year programme (2005-2010) under the UN Framework on Climate Change. Its objective is to assist all parties, in particular developing countries, to improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change; and to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions, on a sound scientific, technical and socio-economic basis.

Natural greenhouse effect The natural level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which keeps the planet about 30C warmer than it would otherwise be - essential for life as we know it. Water vapour is the most important component of the natural greenhouse effect.

Non-annex I countries The group of developing countries that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. They do not have binding emission reduction targets.


Ocean acidification The ocean absorbs approximately one-fourth of man-made CO2 from the atmosphere, which helps to reduce adverse climate change effects. However, when the CO2 dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed. Carbon emissions in the industrial era have already lowered the pH of seawater by 0.1. Ocean acidification can decrease the ability of marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structures and kill off coral reefs, with serious effects for people who rely on them as fishing grounds.


Per-capita emissions The total amount of greenhouse gas emitted by a country per unit of population.

ppm (350/450) An abbreviation for parts per million, usually used as short for ppmv (parts per million by volume). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested in 2007 that the world should aim to stabilise greenhouse gas levels at 450 ppm CO2 equivalent in order to avert dangerous climate change. Some scientists, and many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, argue that the safe upper limit is 350ppm. Current levels of CO2 only are about 380ppm.

Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution. These levels are estimated to be about 280 parts per million (by volume). The current level is around 380ppm.


Renewable energy Renewable energy is energy created from sources that can be replenished in a short period of time. The five renewable sources used most often are: biomass (such as wood and biogas), the movement of water, geothermal (heat from within the earth), wind, and solar.

REDD Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, a concept that would provide developing countries with a financial incentive to preserve forests. The Copenhagen conference is expected to finalise an international finance mechanism for the post-2012 global climate change framework.


Stern review A report on the economics of climate change led by Lord Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist. It was published on 30 October 2006 and argued that the cost of dealing with the consequences of climate change in the future would be higher than taking action to mitigate the problem now.


Technology transfer The process whereby technological advances are shared between different countries. Developed countries could, for example, share up-to-date renewable energy technologies with developing countries, in an effort to lower global greenhouse gas emissions.

Tipping point A tipping point is a threshold for change, which, when reached, results in a process that is difficult to reverse. Scientists say it is urgent that policy makers halve global carbon dioxide emissions over the next 50 years or risk triggering changes that could be irreversible.

Twenty-twenty-twenty (20-20-20) This refers to a pledge by the European Union to reach three targets by 2020: (a) a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; (b) an increase in the use of renewable energy to 20% of all energy consumed; and (c) a 20% increase in energy efficiency. The EU says it will reduce emissions by 30%, by 2020, if other developed countries also pledge tough action.


UNFCCC The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is one of a series of international agreements on global environmental issues adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The UNFCCC aims to prevent "dangerous" human interference with the climate system. It entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has been ratified by 192 countries.


Waxman-Markey bill Another name for the Boxer-Kerry bill, which aims to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. See Boxer-Kerry bill.

Weather The state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind and other meteorological conditions. It is not the same as climate which is the average weather over a much longer period.