Beyond COP26: 20 climate change words you should know

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Beyond COP26: 20 climate change words you should know

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet,” said Romeo’s Juliet.

The quote suggests that names in themselves do not hold worth nor meaning, and they simply act as labels to distinguish one thing or person from another.

In William Shakespeare’s popular tragicomedy- Romeo and Juliet– one of the star-crossed lovers, Juliet applied the metaphor of a rose to Romeo, hinting that Romeo would still be her beloved even if he had a different name.

Relating Juliet’s metaphor to climate change underscores one fundamental truth: even if it had another name, climate change would still be a reality that humans are confronted with today.

A recent survey published in a special edition of the journal Climatic Change shows that words that are associated with climate change might as well be Greek words as most of them are incomprehensible to the general public.

Researchers at the United Nations Foundation and the University of Southern California (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences carried out the study of climate change terminology.

They interviewed 20 members of the general public in the United States, each of who was asked to rate how easy or how difficult it is to understand eight common climate-change terms that appear in available reports written by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The experiment shows that people struggle to understand climate jargon. It’s not far-fetched to think that humans will not believe in something they don’t understand.

Even in Africa, words like mitigation,” “carbon neutral,” “unprecedented transition,” “tipping point,” “sustainable development,” “carbon dioxide removal,” “adaptation,” and “abrupt change” will mean nothing if the majority cannot relate with them or connect them with their everyday realities.

In light of this, we’ve curated a glossary of climate jargon that will help you to understand climate change better so that you can know how to respond to it as well as relate it to your own experiences.

Understanding climate change jargon

Adaptation: This refers to the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic occurrences which helps to reduce harm while exploiting beneficial opportunities.

CO2: Carbon dioxide, a colorless gas that is released through human activities such as cutting down trees and burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions.

Carbon emission: This is the release of carbon into the atmosphere as a result of burning coal, crude oil, and natural gas. To talk about carbon emissions is simply to talk of greenhouse gas which is the main contributor to climate change.

Carbon footprint: The total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by human actions.

Carbon neutral: This means that any CO2 you release into the atmosphere as a result of your company’s activities is balanced or offset by an equal amount you remove by some other means.

Carbon pricing: An instrument that captures the external costs (price) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that the public (companies) pays for, such as damage to crops, health care costs from heatwaves and droughts, and loss of property from flooding and sea-level rise.

Carbon sequestration: The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in a reservoir.

Climate change: Climate is the average weather condition in a place over many years. A shift in those average conditions refers to climate change.

Cop26: The 26th Conference of the Parties is a climate summit that represents a gathering of all the countries signed on to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Eco-friendly: This could be a process, way of life, or activity that is not harmful to the environment.

Fossil fuels: These include coal, crude oil, and natural gas. They are so-called because they were formed from the fossilized, buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago.

Global warming: This refers to the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) mostly due to human activities.

Greenhouse gases: These gases trap heat in the atmosphere and at just the right amount, it keeps the planet warm ensuring that it sustains life. Some greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor.

Mitigation: In the context of climate change, mitigation is a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the removal of greenhouse gases. An example is the use of solar energy to generate electricity rather than fossil fuels.

NDC: Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are the core of the Paris Agreement and the achievement of climate long-term goals. Each country is charged with developing its NDCs as a path towards reducing national emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Net-Zero emission: This indicates a scenario where all the carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases produced by a country is completely absorbed via natural solutions or through the use of advanced technology.

Paris Agreement: This is a legally binding international treaty on climate change that was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015. It outlines a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

Sink: Includes any process, activity, or mechanism that helps to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Forests and other vegetation are considered sinks because they remove carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Sustainable development: This refers to development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Tipping points: These occur when global heating pushes temperatures beyond a critical threshold, leading to accelerated and impacts that cannot be reversed.

While this list does not exhaustively define all climate change terms, it attempts to explain the most common words that can help you relate to conversations, particularly during the ongoing COP26 climate summit.

The first step to solving a problem is to understand it. Hence, understanding the climate change crisis goes beyond knowing the terms associated with it but connecting with the words on an emotive level.

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