Adjustment or preparation of natural or human systems to a new or changing environment, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.
Small particles or liquid droplets in the atmosphere that can absorb or reflect sunlight depending on their composition.
Planting of new forests on lands that historically have not contained forests.
Energy derived from nontraditional sources (e.g., solar, hydroelectric, wind).
Made by people or resulting from human activities.
The gaseous envelope surrounding the Earth. The dry atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen (78.1% volume mixing ratio) and oxygen (20.9% volume mixing ratio), together with a number of trace gases, such as argon (0.93% volume mixing ratio), helium, radioactively active greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (0.035% volume mixing ratio), and ozone. In addition the atmosphere contains water vapor, whose amount is highly variable but typically 1% volume mixing ratio. The atmosphere also contains clouds and aerosols.
Solid, liquid or gaseous fuel made from plant material. Examples: Solid – wood, charcoal, pellets. Liquid – Biodiesel, ethanol, fish oils. Gaseous – biogas, woodgas.
Materials that are biological in origin, including organic material (both living and dead) from above and below ground, for example, trees, crops, grasses, tree litter, roots, and animals and animal waste.
The part of the Earth system comprising all ecosystems and living organisms, in the atmosphere, on land (terrestrial biosphere) or in the oceans (marine biosphere), including derived dead organic matter, such as leaf litter, soil organic matter and oceanic detritus.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a set of technologies that can greatly reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing coal- and gas-fired power plants, industrial processes, and other stationary sources of carbon dioxide. It is a three-step process that includes capture of carbon dioxide from power plants or industrial sources; transport of the captured and compressed carbon dioxide (usually in pipelines); and underground injection and geologic sequestration, or permanent storage, of that carbon dioxide in rock formations that contain tiny openings or pores that trap and hold the carbon dioxide.
The total amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere each year by a person, family, building, organization, or company. A person’s carbon footprint includes greenhouse gas emissions from fuel that an individual burns directly, such as by cooking on LPG or riding in a car. It also includes greenhouse gases that come from producing the goods or services that the individual uses, including emissions from power plants that make electricity, factories that make products, and landfills where trash gets sent.
Carbon markets are trading systems in which carbon credits are sold and bought. One tradable carbon credit equals one tonne of carbon dioxide or the equivalent amount of a different greenhouse gas reduced, sequestered or avoided.
Carbon neutrality is the state of achieving balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks.
Carbon offset is an activity that compensates for the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) or any other greenhouse gases (measured in carbon dioxide equivalents [CO2e]) by providing for an emission reduction elsewhere across the globe through projects like afforestation, renewable energy etc.
Terrestrial, or biologic, carbon sequestration is the process by which trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide, release the oxygen, and store the carbon. Geologic sequestration is one step in the process of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), and involves injecting carbon dioxide deep underground where it stays permanently.
Gases covered under the 1987 Montreal Protocol and used for refrigeration, air conditioning, packaging, insulation, solvents, or aerosol propellants. Since they are not destroyed in the lower atmosphere, CFCs drift into the upper atmosphere where, given suitable conditions, they break down ozone. Other compounds are replacing these gases: hydro chlorofluorocarbons, an interim replacement for CFCs that are also covered under the Montreal Protocol, and hydro fluorocarbons, which are covered under the Kyoto Protocol. All these substances are also greenhouse gases.
Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the “average weather,” or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands of years. The classical period is 3 decades, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.
Climate change refers to any significant change in the measures of climate lasting for an extended period of time. In other words, climate change includes major changes in temperature, precipitation, or wind patterns, among others, that occur over several decades or longer.
A quantitative way of representing the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice. Models can range from relatively simple to quite comprehensive.
In Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, equilibrium climate sensitivity refers to the equilibrium change in global mean surface temperature following a doubling of the atmospheric (equivalent) CO2 concentration. More generally, equilibrium climate sensitivity refers to the equilibrium change in surface air temperature following a unit change in radiative forcing (degrees Celsius, per watts per square meter, (C/Wm-2). One method of evaluating the equilibrium climate sensitivity requires very long simulations with Coupled General Circulation Models (Climate model). The effective climate sensitivity is a related measure that circumvents this requirement. It is evaluated from model output for evolving non-equilibrium conditions. It is a measure of the strengths of the feedbacks at a particular time and may vary with forcing history and climate state.
Climate System (or Earth System)
The five physical components (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere) that are responsible for the climate and its variations.
One of the interrelated components of the Earth’s system, the cryosphere is frozen water in the form of snow, permanently frozen ground (permafrost), floating ice, and glaciers. Fluctuations in the volume of the cryosphere cause changes in ocean sea level, which directly impact the atmosphere and biosphere.
Those practices or processes that result in the conversion of forested lands for non-forest uses. Deforestation contributes to increasing carbon dioxide concentrations for two reasons: 1) the burning or decomposition of the wood releases carbon dioxide; and 2) trees that once removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis are no longer present.
Land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Further, the UNCCD (The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) defines land degradation as a reduction or loss, in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas, of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rain-fed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest, and woodlands resulting from land uses or from a process or combination of processes, including processes arising from human activities and habitation patterns, such as: (i) soil erosion caused by wind and/or water; (ii) deterioration of the physical, chemical and biological or economic properties of soil; and (iii) long-term loss of natural vegetation.
The release of a substance (usually a gas when referring to the subject of climate change) into the atmosphere.
A unique value for scaling emissions to activity data in terms of a standard rate of emissions per unit of activity (e.g., grams of carbon dioxide emitted per barrel of fossil fuel consumed, or per pound of product produced).
Using less energy to provide the same service.
Enhanced Greenhouse Effect
The concept that the natural greenhouse effect has been enhanced by increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (such as CO2 and methane) emitted as a result of human activities. These added greenhouse gases cause the earth to warm.
A general term for organic materials formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over hundreds of millions of years.
In general, this is substituting one type of fuel for another. In the climate-change discussion it is implicit that the substituted fuel produces lower carbon emissions per unit energy produced than the original fuel, e.g., natural gas for coal or biofuels for petroleum.
General Circulation Model (GCM)
A global, three-dimensional computer model of the climate system which can be used to simulate human-induced climate change. GCMs are highly complex and they represent the effects of such factors as reflective and absorptive properties of atmospheric water vapor, greenhouse gas concentrations, clouds, annual and daily solar heating, ocean temperatures and ice boundaries. The most recent GCMs include global representations of the atmosphere, oceans, and land surface.
The soils, sediments, and rock layers of the Earth’s crust, both continental and beneath the ocean floors.
A multi-year surplus accumulation of snowfall in excess of snowmelt on land and resulting in a mass of ice at least 0.1 km2 in area that shows some evidence of movement in response to gravity. A glacier may terminate on land or in water. Glacier ice is the largest reservoir of freshwater on Earth, and second only to the oceans as the largest reservoir of total water. Glaciers are found on every continent except Australia.
Global Average Temperature
An estimate of Earth’s mean surface air temperature averaged over the entire planet.
The recent and ongoing global average increase in temperature near the Earth’s surface.
Global Warming Potential
A measure of the total energy that a gas absorbs over a particular period of time (usually 100 years), compared to carbon dioxide.
Trapping and build-up of heat in the atmosphere (troposphere) near the Earth’s surface. Some of the heat flowing back toward space from the Earth’s surface is absorbed by water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, and several other gases in the atmosphere and then reradiated back toward the Earth’s surface. If the atmospheric concentrations of these greenhouse gases rise, the average temperature of the lower atmosphere will gradually increase.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG)
Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons, hydro chlorofluorocarbons, hydro fluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride.
An urban area characterized by temperatures higher than those of the surrounding non-urban area. As urban areas develop, buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation. These surfaces absorb more solar energy, which can create higher temperatures in urban areas.
A prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity.
Substances containing only hydrogen and carbon. Fossil fuels are made up of hydrocarbons.
Compounds containing hydrogen, fluorine, chlorine, and carbon atoms. Although ozone depleting substances, they are less potent at destroying stratospheric ozone than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). They have been introduced as temporary replacements for CFCs and are also greenhouse gases.
Compounds containing only hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon atoms. They were introduced as alternatives to ozone depleting substances in serving many industrial, commercial, and personal needs. HFCs are emitted as by-products of industrial processes and are also used in manufacturing. They do not significantly deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, but they are powerful greenhouse gases with global warming potentials ranging from 140 (HFC-152a) to 11,700 (HFC-23).
The component of the climate system comprising liquid surface and subterranean water, such as: oceans, seas, rivers, fresh water lakes, underground water etc.
Indirect emissions from a building, home or business are those emissions of greenhouse gases that occur as a result of the generation of electricity used in that building. These emissions are called “indirect” because the actual emissions occur at the power plant which generates the electricity, not at the building using the electricity.
A period of rapid industrial growth with far-reaching social and economic consequences, beginning in England during the second half of the 18th century and spreading to Europe and later to other countries including the United States. The industrial revolution marks the beginning of a strong increase in combustion of fossil fuels and related emissions of carbon dioxide.
Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change (IPCC)
The IPCC was established jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988. The purpose of the IPCC is to assess information in the scientific and technical literature related to all significant components of the issue of climate change. The IPCC draws upon hundreds of the world’s expert scientists as authors and thousands as expert reviewers. Leading experts on climate change and environmental, social, and economic sciences from some 60 nations have helped the IPCC to prepare periodic assessments of the scientific underpinnings for understanding global climate change and its consequences. With its capacity for reporting on climate change, its consequences, and the viability of adaptation and mitigation measures, the IPCC is also looked to as the official advisory body to the world’s governments on the state of the science of the climate change issue. For example, the IPCC organized the development of internationally accepted methods for conducting national greenhouse gas emission inventories.
Land waste disposal site in which waste is generally spread in thin layers, compacted, and covered with a fresh layer of soil each day.
Least Developed Country
A country with low indicators of socioeconomic development and human resources, as well as economic vulnerability, as determined by the United Nations.
A hydrocarbon that is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential most recently estimated at 25 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2). Methane is produced through anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition of waste in landfills, animal digestion, decomposition of animal wastes, production and distribution of natural gas and petroleum, coal production, and incomplete fossil fuel combustion. The GWP is from the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).
Common international measurement for the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. A metric ton is equal to 2205 lbs or 1.1 short tons.
A human intervention to reduce the human impact on the climate system; it includes strategies to reduce greenhouse gas sources and emissions and enhancing greenhouse gas sinks.
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
Residential solid waste and some non-hazardous commercial, institutional, and industrial wastes. This material is generally sent to municipal landfills for disposal.
Nationally Determined Contribution
The natural circulation of nitrogen among the atmosphere, plants, animals, and microorganisms that live in soil and water. Nitrogen takes on a variety of chemical forms throughout the nitrogen cycle, including nitrous oxide (N2O) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Gases consisting of one molecule of nitrogen and varying numbers of oxygen molecules. Nitrogen oxides are produced in the emissions of vehicle exhausts and from power stations. In the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides can contribute to formation of photochemical ozone (smog), can impair visibility, and have health consequences; they are thus considered pollutants.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
A powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential of 298 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2). Major sources of nitrous oxide include soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning. The GWP is from the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4).
Natural emissions of N2O are mainly from bacteria breaking down nitrogen in soils and the oceans. Nitrous oxide is mainly removed from the atmosphere through destruction in the stratosphere by ultraviolet radiation and associated chemical reactions, but it can also be consumed by certain types of bacteria in soils.
Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in sea water causing a measurable increase in acidity (i.e., a reduction in ocean pH). This may lead to reduced calcification rates of calcifying organisms such as corals, mollusks, algae and crustaceans.
Ozone, the triatomic form of oxygen (O3), is a gaseous atmospheric constituent. In the troposphere, it is created by photochemical reactions involving gases resulting both from natural sources and from human activities (photochemical smog). In high concentrations, tropospheric ozone can be harmful to a wide range of living organisms. Tropospheric ozone acts as a greenhouse gas. In the stratosphere, ozone is created by the interaction between solar ultraviolet radiation and molecular oxygen (O2). Stratospheric ozone plays a decisive role in the stratospheric radiative balance. Depletion of stratospheric ozone, due to chemical reactions that may be enhanced by climate change, results in an increased ground-level flux of ultraviolet (UV-) B radiation.
Ozone Depleting Substance (ODS)
A family of man-made compounds that includes, but are not limited to, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), bromofluorocarbons (halons), methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, methyl bromide, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These compounds have been shown to deplete stratospheric ozone, and therefore are typically referred to as ODSs.
The layer of ozone that begins approximately 15 km above Earth and thins to an almost negligible amount at about 50 km, shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The highest natural concentration of ozone (approximately 10 parts per million by volume) occurs in the stratosphere at approximately 25 km above Earth. The stratospheric ozone concentration changes throughout the year as stratospheric circulation changes with the seasons. Natural events such as volcanoes and solar flares can produce changes in ozone concentration, but man-made changes are of the greatest concern.
Particulate matter (PM)
Very small pieces of solid or liquid matter such as particles of soot, dust, fumes, mists or aerosols. The physical characteristics of particles, and how they combine with other particles, are part of the feedback mechanisms of the atmosphere. See aerosol, sulfate aerosols.
Parts Per Billion (ppb)
Number of parts of a chemical found in one billion parts of a particular gas, liquid, or solid mixture.
Parts Per Million by Volume (ppmv)
Number of parts of a chemical found in one million parts of a particular gas, liquid, or solid.
Parts Per Trillion (ppt)
Number of parts of a chemical found in one trillion parts of a particular gas, liquid or solid.
A group of chemicals composed of carbon and fluorine only. These chemicals (predominantly CF4 and C2F6) were introduced as alternatives, along with hydrofluorocarbons, to the ozone depleting substances. In addition, PFCs are emitted as by-products of industrial processes and are also used in manufacturing. PFCs do not harm the stratospheric ozone layer, but they are powerful greenhouse gases: CF4 has a global warming potential (GWP) of 7,390 and C2F6 has a GWP of 12,200. The GWP is from the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). These chemicals are predominantly human-made, though there is a small natural source of CF4.
Energy transfer in the form of electromagnetic waves or particles that release energy when absorbed by an object.
A measure of the influence of a particular factor (e.g. greenhouse gas (GHG), aerosol, or land use change) on the net change in the Earths energy balance.
Collecting and reprocessing a resource so it can be used again. An example is collecting aluminum cans, melting them down, and using the aluminum to make new cans or other aluminum products.
Planting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use.
Relative Sea Level Rise
The increase in ocean water levels at a specific location, taking into account both global sea level rise and local factors, such as local subsidence and uplift. Relative sea level rise is measured with respect to a specified vertical datum relative to the land, which may also be changing elevation over time.
Energy resources that are naturally replenishing such as biomass, hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, ocean thermal, wave action, and tidal action.
A capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to social well-being, the economy, and the environment.
Sea Surface Temperature
The temperature in the top several feet of the ocean, measured by ships, buoys and drifters.
The degree to which a system is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate variability or change. The effect may be direct (e.g., a change in crop yield in response to a change in the mean, range or variability of temperature) or indirect (e.g., damages caused by an increase in the frequency of coastal flooding due to sea level rise).
Any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas or aerosol from the atmosphere.
A major component of the terrestrial biosphere pool in the carbon cycle. The amount of carbon in the soil is a function of the historical vegetative cover and productivity, which in turn is dependent in part upon climatic variables.
Region of the atmosphere between the troposphere and mesosphere, having a lower boundary of approximately 8 km at the poles to 15 km at the equator and an upper boundary of approximately 50 km. Depending upon latitude and season, the temperature in the lower stratosphere can increase, be isothermal, or even decrease with altitude, but the temperature in the upper stratosphere generally increases with height due to absorption of solar radiation by ozone.
1 trillion (1012) grams = 1 million (106) metric tons.
The increase in volume (and decrease in density) that results from warming water. A warming of the ocean leads to an expansion of the ocean volume, which leads to an increase in sea level.
The lowest part of the atmosphere from the surface to about 10 km in altitude in mid-latitudes (ranging from 9 km in high latitudes to 16 km in the tropics on average) where clouds and “weather” phenomena occur. In the troposphere temperatures generally decrease with height.
Ultraviolet Radiation (UV)
The energy range just beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum. Although ultraviolet radiation constitutes only about 5 percent of the total energy emitted from the sun, it is the major energy source for the stratosphere and mesosphere, playing a dominant role in both energy balance and chemical composition.
Most ultraviolet radiation is blocked by Earth’s atmosphere, but some solar ultraviolet penetrates and aids in plant photosynthesis and helps produce vitamin D in humans. Too much ultraviolet radiation can burn the skin, cause skin cancer and cataracts, and damage vegetation.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Convention enjoys near universal membership, with 189 countries having ratified.
Under the Convention, governments:
• gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices
• launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries
• cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change
The Convention entered into force on 21 March 1994.
The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed; its sensitivity; and its adaptive capacity.
Atmospheric condition at any given time or place. It is measured in terms of such things as wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, and precipitation. In most places, weather can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the “average weather”, or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system. A simple way of remembering the difference is that climate is what you expect (e.g. cold winters) and ‘weather’ is what you get (e.g. a blizzard).