Climate Buzzword Dictionary

This is a summary of all the climate related terminology, buzzwords and acronymns used in our Intro to Climate, Code Red for Humanity , Climate Companies and Carbon Removal email courses .


Afforestation - planting trees in an area that hasn't had trees there before, see also Reforesation

Albedo effect - sunlight reflects back into space more off light surfaces, like snow or ice, than darker surfaces like rock, which absorb more heat

Anthropocene - the current geological epoch. Devised recently to distinguish a new phase, where humans are having huge impact on the planet through our activity

Anthropogenic - fancy sciencey word for "caused by human activity"

Avoidance Offsets - projects that generate carbon credits as they do not emit carbon, thereby avoiding emissions in theory. For example solar power plants, EV car companies and landfill gas capture among others. Avoidance offsets can be used to offset emissions, even if no reduction or removal has taken place


Biodiversity - the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat, a high level of which is usually considered to be important and desirable to maintain balanced ecosystems

Biomass - the total quantity or weight of organisms in a given area or volume. For example, all living things on Earth

Biome - a distinct biogeographical unit consisting of a biological community that has formed in response to a shared regional climate. Biomes may span more than one continent. Biome is a broader term than habitat and can comprise a variety of habitats

Biosphere - the regions of the surface and atmosphere of the earth occupied by living organisms (it's pretty much all of it). It's the combined total of all habitats and ecosystems

Blue Carbon - using the oceans natural ability to store carbon to help take it out of the atmosphere

Built-in obsolescence - intentionally idesigning something that will need to be replaced or upgraded after a period of time

Business Activity - when calculating a company's emissions it's anything a company does that produces CO2e emissions. For most companies, it's pretty much everything they do at present. It's all the activities separated out across the three scopes


Cap and Trade - in compliance carbon marketplaces organizations have an allowance of emissions which they can trade or sell if they don't use. Allowances reduce over time to enforce emissions reductions

Carbon Accounting - general term used when tracking and managing a company's greenhouse gas emissions. Think of it as the carbon equivalent to a financial balance sheet

Carbon Dioxide - Greenhouse Gas created by burning fossil fuels

Carbon Dioxide and Equivalents - bundle of main greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane & nitrous oxide. Abrev. CO2e. See also: Global Warming Potential

Carbon Dioxide Removal - abbreviated to CDR - the process of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and storing it somewhere safely where it can't contribute to global warming and climate change

Carbon Budget - allowance of emissions to stay below a certain level of average global temperature rise, ideally 1.5C or less than 2C

Carbon Credits - a permit which allows a country or organization to produce a certain amount of carbon emissions and which can be traded if the full allowance is not used OR an offset created by a project that either avoids or removes emissions

Carbon Cycle - processes where carbon is changed in the environment, from being used in living organisms (plants & animals) to its return to the atmosphere through respiration, the decay of dead things, and the burning of fossil fuels

Carbon Footprint - the amount of carbon you use or create

Carbon free energy - Generating electricity from Renewables plus Nuclear power, which doesn't emit carbon into the atmosphere

Carbon Negative - not only being carbon free, but also removing historical emissions + more as well

Carbon Markets - a market to value and trade carbon permits and credits. There are multiple around the world all with different pricing. It's expected they will standardized over the next few years

Carbon Neutral - making or resulting in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, likely using offsetting rather than fully decarbonized for Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Probably doesn't include emissions from Scope 3 sources

Carbon Sinks - places in nature that absorb carbon and lock it away for the long term, so it's not in the atmosphere, for example oceans and forests

Carbon Tax - a tax on carbon emissions and fossil fuels that gives a value to the damage they do

Circular Economy - a system where all waste is minimised by recycling most end-of-life products for their materials to be reused again and again. Meaning we'd need less primary materials to be extracted or created. Sometimes referring to a "closed loop" or "zero waste" process

Climate Crisis and Climate Change - the accelerating heating of our planet due to human activity

Climate Justice - a term to frame climate change as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature. Also called Environmental Justice

Climate Positive - sometimes this means the same as Carbon Negative and Positive. We think for Climate Companies this term has the right kind of aspiration in it and it's definition can be further refined

Climate Reporting - general term for disclosing your emissions and having them validated by a third party to a set of high standards.

Climate Restoration - goal to restore CO2 to levels humans have survived in long-term, below 300 ppm (currently at 419ppm)

Climate System - combination of the interaction of five major climate components: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the lithosphere and the biosphere

Closed Loop - when something is made, used and then recycled to make something else with little or no waste. See also, Circular Economy

CO2e - the abbreviation of Carbon Dioxide and Equivalents

Co-benefits - when talking about carbon removal, for example, it could be if a nature based carbon removal project also rejuvenates a habitat or ecosystem

"Committed" Carbon Reduction Policies - carbon reduction pledges that are binding targets with legislation in place. See also, "Stated" Carbon Reduction Policies

COP26 - the UN conference about climate change, in November 2021 (postponed in 2020 due to COVID)

Cradle to Grave - everything that's baked into an item from raw materials to shipping to use and disposal. Just think of it as another way of describing a product's life cycle. See Removing Emissions

Cryosphere - parts of Earth's surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, and frozen ground

Culumulative Radiative Forcing - the amount of extra energy trapped in the atmosphere by a CO₂ emission


Decarbonize - disconnect all the things humanity does from creating carbon emissions. The process to stop emitting Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere

Desertification - the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture

Direct Air Capture - technology to take carbon out of the air. See also Point Source Capture

Drawdown - aka Carbon Drawdown - taking CO2e out of the atmosphere through natural or technology based approaches


Ecosystem Services - all natural occurring benefits from animal and plant-life. Grouped into 4 categories: Provisioning, Regulating, Cultural and Supporting. Everything from forests to fruit to pollinating insects + a lot more!

Embodied Emissions and Carbon - CO2e baked-in to things we buy, use or do. They could come from the raw materials, the production process, transportation use and disposal of items or activities

Emissions - the creation and release of Greenhouse gases into the atmosphere

Emissions Factor - databases containing measurements of the carbon in lots of activities. Examples databases include: US EPA, European Environment Agency, and UK DEFRA

Energy Mix - the mix of types of energy sources used to power a country

Energy Transition - the global switch from fossil fuels to renewable or no carbon sources of energy generation

ESG - abbreviation of Environmental, Social and Governance. It's a framework for measuring a company's combined impact across those areas. It does not cover carbon reduction or removal efforts


Food waste - all food grown for human consumption that is thrown away rather than being eaten throughout the supply chain. Including in the food system, during production, processing, distribution, retail and by end consumers

Food insecure/insecurity - being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food

Fossil Fuels - errrrm you know stuff we dig up and (mostly) burn to create carbon emissions. Made from really, really old dead things. Namely, oil, coal and natural gas

FUD - Fear, uncertainty and doubt. It's a normal emotion to feel some fear about the impacts of climate change, though we prefer hope as inspiration for action and progress. Combining the negative emotion with forward movement creates agency and change. There is scientific consensus on the causes and solutions to The Climate Crisis. There is no uncertainty or doubt about what humanity can do to try to address it


GDP - abbreviation of Gross Domestic Product. A measure of the monetary value of all goods and services made in a country

Geo-engineering - deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth's climate system to counteract climate change

GHG Protocol Corporate Standard - set standards for carbon accounting that are widely used. These include: Governance, Strategy, Risk Management, Metrics and Targets

Gigatonne - another way of saying "a billion tonnes", abrev. Gt. Example: 1billion tonnes of CO2 = 1 Gigatonne, or 1Gt

Global Heating/Warming - the result of climate change, where worldwide temperatures rise due to higher levels of atmospheric CO2e

Global North - traditionally the wealthiest, most industrialised, most influential and developed countries. Typically residing in the geographical north

Global South - traditionally less wealthy, less influential, yet to fully industrialise developing countries. Typically residing in the geographical south

Global Warming Potential - abbrev. GWP. The way GHGs are compared based on their relative ability to heat the atmosphere in comparison to Carbon Dioxide, turning other gases into equivalents of carbon emissions. For example: if 1kg of methane is emitted, this can be expressed as 25kg of CO2e (1kg CH4 * 25 = 25kg CO2e). It's multiplied by 298 for Nitrous Oxide. See also: Carbon Dioxide and Equivalents

Greenhouse Gases - Abbreviated to GHG. 98% made up of Carbon Dioxide, Methane or Nitrous Oxide. Gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. See Carbon and Equivalents

Greenhushing - when companies hide or don't publicy report their sustainability programs to avoid scrutiny or criticism. See also, Greenwashing

Greenlabelling - when a product or service is marketed as green or sustainable but, on closer inspection, those claims are misleading or untrue. See also, Greenwashing

Greenlighting - when a company focuses on a green feature of their operations or products, however small, to distract attention away from other activities that are damaging to the climate. See also, Greenwashing

Green New Deal/European Green Deal - new governemental policies that seek to link cutting carbon emissions, investing in nature as well as creating opportunities for people

Greenrinsing - if an company changes its ESG or other climate targets before they are achieved to hide them being missed. See also, Greenwashing and ESG

Green Rush, The New - the global race to decarbonize, either by inventing or deploying technology or other solutions - including nature-based - that reduce or capture emissions at scale, and by doing so evolving the economy for a post-fossil fuel world

Greenshifting - when companies imply that consumers are at fault and to blame for the embodied emissions in the products they buy. See also, Greenwashing and Embodied Emissions

Greenwashing - tactic to hide emissions in low or zero carbon assets. Or misleading information about the emissions from a particular activity or company


Hard to Abate or Avoid emissions - the greenhouse gases that humans release that aren't simple or economical to find low/no carbon alternatives for OR reduce and stop. For example some processes in heavy industries like cement or steel production

Hydrogen - Potentially a carbon-free alternative energy source and alternative to natural/fossil gas. Green Hydrogen is made by splitting water using renewable power so no emissions. Blue Hydrogen uses natural/fossil gas and is carbon intensive needing to capture and store emissions that would otherwise be emitted when making it. Both are currently expensive options.


Impact investor/investing -  investments into companies, organizations and funds that. create a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return

Imported Emissions - the embedded CO2e in goods or services that are made in one country but are used in another country

Intermittency - a challenge with renewable energy generation from wind and solar sources. What do you do when it's not windy or sunny enough?

IPCC - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A United Nations organization set up to assess and document the evidence for climate change. They bring together scientists and scientific papers to assess the evidence




Land-Use Change and Forestry - when we chop down forests or change other types of habitat for agriculture or wood or something else, e.g. peat or oil sands etc

Life Cycle Assessment - abbreviated to LCA. A methodology to calculate how much CO2e is emitted from a particular good or service throughout its entire life from raw materials, production, transport, use and disposal.


Methane - Greenhouse Gas with 86 times the warming impact as Carbon Dioxide

Monoculture - in an agricultural context it's the practice of growing a single crop, plant, or livestock species, variety, or breed in a field or farming system at a time


Nature-based solutions - using natural carbon sinks to remove it from the atmosphere, like forests, plants or the oceans

Natural variability - climatic fluctuations that occur without any human influence, that is, internal variability combined with the response to external natural factors such as volcanic eruptions, changes in solar activity and longer over tens of thousands of years, orbital effects and plate tectonics

NDC - abbreviation of Nationally Determined Contribution. Pledges by governments for the amount of carbon reduction they plan to commit to.

Negative Emissions - when more emissions have been removed or avoided than have been released

Net-positive - a way of doing business that puts back more into society, the environment and the global economy than it takes out

Net Negative - removing more emissions from the atmosphere than we put out into the atmosphere

Net-zero - a target to stop producing Greenhouse Gases from human activity by 2050. It combines reducing, removing as well as offsetting hard to eliminate emissions. Also called Net-zero 2050

Nitrous Oxide - Greenhouse Gas with 260 times the heating impact of Carbon Dioxide


Ocean Salinity - a measure of the saltiness or amount of salt dissolved in a body of water

Offsetting - buying parts of carbon avoiding, reducing or removing projects that avoid or remove emissions to reduce your own footprint

Old Growth Forests - long established ecosystems that act as valuable carbon sinks

Ocean thermal expansion - water expands as it heats up. As the temperature of the ocean increases so will the total ocean volume, raising sea levels


Paleoclimate - the study of past climates for which direct measurements were not taken by people. For example thousands or millions of years ago using ice cores and rock sediments

Paris Agreement - international agreement to limit climate change to 2 degrees Celsuis while aiming for 1.5C increase in average global temperatures

Permanence - in relation to carbon removal it is the measure of how long sequestered emissions can be kept out of the atmosphere. Depending on the solution it varies from years, decades to thousands of years

Petrochemical - any chemical made from fossil fuels like oil and natural gas

Planetary Boundaries - a model of nine limits within which humanity can continue to develop and thrive for generations to come, made by scientists in 2009

Point Source Capture - emissions captured and stored from a source (like a power plant). See also Direct Air Capture

ppm - abbreviation for parts per million - a measure of how much of a particular gas is concentrated in the air

Precipitation - any condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravitational pull from clouds. The main forms of precipitation include drizzling, rain, sleet, snow, ice pellets, graupel and hail

Primary materials - newly extracted or created from basic resources to be used to make something

Production Phase - the part of an item's lifecycle where it's being grown or made



Rare Earth Minerals - used in electronics, these scarce resources need to be mined

Reducing or Avoiding Emissions - doing less things that create emissions of greenhouse gases, or choosing alternatives that emit less or no CO2e

Reforestation - planting trees in an area that has been deforested that had trees there before, see also Afforestation

Regenerative Agriculture - conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. Including topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change

Removing Emissions - taking out greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing them somewhere

Renewables - electricity created from Wind, Solar, Hydroelectric/Tidal, Geothermal or Biomass sources. Most often they mean wind or solar


Science Based Targets Initiative - the SBTi provides independent guidance on what good targets look a like for emissions reductions and removal, linked to what is needed to achieve Net Zero by 2050

Scope 1, 2, 3 - a framework for measuring different types of emissions by organisations

Scope 1 - emissions from a companies own operations

Scope 2 - emissions from bought services, like electricity

Scope 3 - emissions from everything else, including supply chain and use of a product (often between 70 to 95% of a companies total emissions)

Sequester - when CO2e is taken out of the air and locked away in a carbon sink

Sixth Mass Extinction Event - the current process of extinction of wildlife. It's estimated to be accelerating. In Earth's history there have been 5 others pre-dating humans. A mass extinction event is the loss of about three quarters of species over a short geological time period

Solar Photovoltaic - the panels you see that convert sunlight into electricity

"Stated" Carbon Reduction Policies - pledges for emissions reductions than have been made but are not committed to legally or as binding targets (yet!). See also, "Comitted" Carbon Reduction Policies

Stranded assets - investments or assets that have been devalued, like stores of fossil fuels that haven't been extracted yet

Structural decline - economics term meaning a dramatic shift in the way a country, industry, or market operates, usually brought on by developments which mean a previous peak won't be beaten

Supply Chain - all elements or other companies that contribute to a final product that aren't directly owned by that company


TCFD - The Financial Stability Board (FSB) created the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). It sets the global standards for climate reporting

TFND - The Taskforce on Nature Related Financial Disclosures provide frameworks for organizations to disclose and act on nature-related risks.

Tonnes - another way of saying "a metric ton". 1 tonne is 1000kg, equivalent to 2,204 pounds


UN Sustainability Goals - the United Nations produced 17 aims in 2015 to transform our world and not leave anyone behind

Use Phase - the part of an item's lifecycle where you're using it


Variability - something we need to solve for when it's not sunny or windy enough to generate lots of electricity from renewable sources. See Intermittency

Voluntary Carbon Markets - Catch-all phrase for the voluntary purchase of carbon credits and the open market for them. In contrast to legally enforced, compliance carbon markets, there is often limited or no legislative requirement for organizations to purchase credits


Wet bulb conditions/temperature - when heat and humidity are at a point that water does not evaporate into the air. For example, humans other organisms are not able to cool down by sweating




Zero carbon energy - renewables plus nuclear, which doesn't emit carbon into the atmosphere

Every tonne matters

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