1.5°C The aim is to limit global warming (see below) to 1.5% above pre-industrial levels – the threshold above which we’d be expected to see devastating climate impacts and lasting changes. 

Carbon capture and storage The trapping and storage of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by power plants and other industrial facilities, to prevent it from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Often abbreviated as CCS. 

Carbon budget A limit set by, for example, a government, specifying the permitted amount of CO2 a country can emit over a period of time, in order to keep global warming within the specified threshold. 

Carbon market A market in which greenhouse gas emission allowances are traded, such as the EU’s cap-and-trade system. An overall cap on emissions is set, and businesses that emit less than their share can sell credits to those who’ve reached their limit. 

Carbon footprint  The environmental impact of a particular individual, community or organisation, or of a specific event, product, etc, measured in terms of the total associated greenhouse gas emissions. It is typically expressed in terms of the (annual) equivalent in tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

Carbon intensity The amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of another variable, usually gross domestic product (GDP).

Carbon removal The process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away for as long as possible, whether through technologies such as direct air capture or natural strategies such as reforestation.   

Circular economy An economy that keeps materials in use for as long as possible by reusing and recycling products when they’re no longer functional or required, eliminating waste from the system. This is opposed to the traditional, linear model, which is based on a take-make-consume-throw-away pattern. 

Clean energy Energy that comes from renewable sources, whose use and production does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Climate action Measures taken by governments or businesses to help stop climate change from getting worse, largely through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Climate adaptation Preparing for and coping with the impacts of climate change that can’t be avoided, for example by building flood defences.

Climate justice Addressing inequitable outcomes for the people and places most vulnerable to climate change and its impacts, and considering the fairness of policy and practical responses in light of these.

Climate mitigation What actions can be taken to prevent, reduce, slow down, stop or reverse climate change. 

CO2 Carbon dioxide: a colourless, odourless gas produced through the combustion of fossil fuels, as well as through natural processes such as respiration, decomposition, and volcanic activity. It is absorbed by plants during photosynthesis. 

Energy security Ensuring an adequate, stable and predictable energy supply for a country or the global community as a whole, meeting demand at competitive and stable prices. 

ESG Environmental, social and governance criteria used by investors when analysing the sustainability of potential investments. ‘E’ refers to how a company responds to environmental concerns; ‘S’ to its relationships with employees, suppliers, customers and the communities where it operates; and ‘G’ to its leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls and shareholder rights.

Event attribution A field of research that looks at how events such as storms, extreme rainfall, heatwaves or droughts are linked to climate change and whether we are likely to see more of them in the future. 

Global warming The long-term gradual increase in the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, waters and land surface, particularly through increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.

Green finance Financial activity that is aimed at improving environmental outcomes, for example investments in green projects. 

Green recovery Ensuring our economic recovery from the pandemic is effected in a way that is environmentally sustainable, by focusing on long-term policies and solutions that will benefit both people and planet.

Greenwashing When a company makes misleading claims about the eco-friendly benefits of a product or service it provides.  

IPCC The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of the United Nations (UN) that provides scientific assessment of climate change to policymakers and decision-makers. 

Natural capital The world’s stock of natural resources, including ‘assets’ such as water, forests, fish stocks, biodiversity and minerals, as well as natural processes and functions, that provide valuable goods and services to people.

Net zero The balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions removed from the atmosphere. 

NDCs A part of the Paris Agreement, nationally determined contributions (NDCs) represent the commitment of each country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with measures including decarbonisation and the adoption of renewable energy.

Offsetting The process of compensating for emissions arising from industrial or other human activity, by participating in schemes designed to make equivalent reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.  

Science-based targets An initiative that creates a clearly defined pathway for companies to make the reductions required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. 

SDGs The UN’s 17 interlinked Sustainable Development Goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. They were adopted by all UN member states as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

Zero waste A means of reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill, via responsible manufacturing, distribution and consumption of a product.

Sources: The Science Council; the Royal Meteorological Society; the OED blog. 

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