A quick guide to climate change jargon
Why in News?
● As a major UN climate conference at Glasgow gets underway on October 31, 2021,
there will be a lot of technical terms tossed around: mitigation, carbon neutral,
● IPCC definition: Mitigation (of climate change): a human intervention to reduce
emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.
● Translation: Stopping climate change from getting worse.
● Some ways to mitigate climate change include using solar and wind power instead of
coal-fired power plants; making buildings, appliances and vehicles more energy efficient
so they use less electricity and fuel; and designing cities so people have to drive less.
● Protecting forests and planting trees also help because trees absorb greenhouse gases
from the atmosphere and lock them away.
● IPCC definition: In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected
climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In
natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human
intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.
● Translation: Making changes to live with the impacts of climate change.
● Climate change is already happening. Heat waves, wildfires and floods are getting worse.
People will have to find ways to live with these threats.
● Los Angeles, for example, is planting trees to help people stay cooler. Coastal cities like
Miami may need sea walls to protect against floods. More “adaptation” actions will be
needed as climate change gets worse.
Carbon dioxide removal
● IPCC definition: Carbon dioxide removal methods refer to processes that remove CO2
from the atmosphere by either increasing biological sinks of CO2 or using chemical
processes to directly bind CO2. CDR is classified as a special type of mitigation.
● Translation: Taking carbon dioxide out of the air.
● The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has been increasing for many years. In 2019,
there was 50% more of it than in the late 1700s.
● Planting trees and restoring grasslands can remove carbon dioxide from the air. There
are also carbon dioxide removal technologies that store it underground or in concrete,
but these are new and not widely used.
● IPCC definition: Carbon neutrality is achieved when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are
balanced globally by anthropogenic carbon dioxide removals over a specified period.
Carbon neutrality is also referred to as net-zero carbon dioxide emission.
● Translation: Adding no net carbon dioxide into the air. This does not have to mean that
you can’t add any carbon dioxide. It means that if you do add carbon dioxide into the air
you take out the same amount.
● The IPCC warns that the world needs to be carbon neutral by 2050 to avoid a serious
climate crisis. This means using both “mitigation” to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide added to the air and “carbon dioxide removal” to take carbon dioxide out of the
● IPCC definition: A level of change in system properties beyond which a system
reorganizes, often abruptly, and does not return to the initial state even if the drivers of
the change are abated. For the climate system, it refers to a critical threshold when
global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state.
● Translation: When it is too late to stop the effects of climate change.
● One of the most talked-about tipping points involves the collapse of the West Antarctic
ice sheet. Some research suggests it may have already started happening. West
Antarctica alone holds enough ice to raise sea levels worldwide by about 11 feet (3.3
meters). If all glaciers and ice caps melt, sea levels will end up rising about 230 feet (70 meters).