Glossary of climate change terms

with example sentences

The vocabulary on this page represents a range of topics and concepts related to climate change, including the causes and impacts of global warming, potential solutions, and strategies for adapting to a changing climate. Each word is followed by (part of speech), definition and example sentence.

adaptation (noun): actions taken to adjust to the effects of climate change, for example building sea walls to protect against rising sea levels — Farmers are planting more drought-resistant crops as a form of adaptation to the changing climate.

anthropogenic climate change (noun): man-made climate change

Arctic shrinkage (noun): a reduction in the extent of Arctic sea-ice believed to be a result of global warming — To calculate yearly fluctuations in Arctic shrinkage scientists have to allow for ice depth and contiguous versus non-contiguous ice floes.

atmosphere (noun): the mixture of gases surrounding the earth and other planets — Earth's atmosphere consists primarily of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 0.9% argon with the remaining 0.1% coming from trace amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour and other gases.

biodiversity (noun): The variety of life forms that are found in a particular area, including the different species of plants, animals and microorganisms — Climate change may be a threat to biodiversity as it can disrupt ecosystems and cause species to become extinct.

biofuel (noun): fuel that comes from plant material or animal waste. As they are derived from living matter, biofuels are considered to be renewable sources of energy — These crops contain oils that can be converted into biofuel.

carbon capture (noun): the process of taking carbon dioxide emissions from industrial processes and storing them underground or using them in other ways — Carbon capture and storage may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other industrial processes.

carbon dioxide (CO2) (noun): a colourless gas present in the atmosphere that is produced when animals breathe out or when carbon and organic compounds are burned — In simple terms, plants take in carbon-dioxide and breathe out oxygen, while animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

carbon emissions (noun): the release of carbon into the atmosphere as a result of the burning of fossil fuels — The opening of the new factory will increase our carbon emissions.

carbon footprint (noun): a measurement of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of any individual or organisation — Wealthy business people, politicians and other VIPs who fly around the world in private jets tend to have much higher carbon footprints than the average person.

carbon neutral (adjective): the state of having reduced one's net carbon emissions to zero — By the end of the next decade, we hope to be carbon neutral.

carbon pricing (noun): a policy approach encouraging reductions in emissions by placing a price on greenhouse gas emissions, such as through a carbon tax — Carbon pricing has been effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in some countries, for example Sweden and Canada.

carbon removal (noun): the net removal of carbon from the atmosphere through human actions such as tree planting and forest restoration — The company's carbon removal efforts were commended by the president.

carbon sink (noun): any process that removes carbon from the atmosphere, such as the world's oceans and forests which absorb large volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — The Amazon rainforest is an important carbon sink, absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in its trees and soil.

clean coal technology (noun): technology that allows coal to be burned without emitting CO2 — Although not fully developed, clean coal technology promises to be a valuable tool in meeting net zero targets.

climate (noun): the weather conditions prevailing in a particular place or area over a long period of time — The climate in the region is mild, with winter temperatures rarely falling below 15°C.

climate vs weather

Weather refers to atmospheric conditions in the short term, such as changes in temperature, humidity, cloudiness, brightness, rain and snow, wind, and visibility. While the weather is always changing, from week to week or even from day to day, climate is the average of weather patterns over a much longer period, usually measured in decades or centuries.

climate adaptation (noun): the adoption of necessary lifestyle changes in order to cope with a changing climate — Climate adaptation has always been essential for the survival of species. Those that don't adapt don't survive.

climate anxiety / eco-anxiety (noun): a psychological response to the threats against our environment driven by advocates of climate change, especially prevalent in young people — Young people in particular are experiencing climate anxiety or eco-anxiety as they actually believe the world is going to end.

climate change (noun): long-term global or regional variations in climatic conditions and temperatures. See man-made climate change — The Earth has witnessed many episodes of climate change in its 4.5 billion-year existence.

climate change denier (noun): a pejorative term applied to a person questioning the concept of man-made climate change — The politician continues to be a vocal climate change denier, arguing that the increase in global temperatures is coincidental and that correlation is not causation.

climate impact (noun): a measure of the effect that any particular activity might have on the climate — Before going ahead with the project, we must consider its climate impact.

CO2 (abbreviation): carbon dioxide

deforestation (noun): the removal of a forest or wide area of trees, often for agricultural use — Deforestation is having a devastating effect on many of the world's ecosystems.

drought (noun): an extended period without rain or any other precipitation — The drought we are experiencing now is the worst for 40 years.

ecosystem (noun): a community of plants, animals and other organisms and the environment in which they interact — All plants and animals are affected by changes in their ecosystems.

eco-warrior (noun): a person actively involved in protecting the environment — Eco-warriors have set up camp in the city centre, in protest against the opening of the new airport.

extinction (noun): when all members of a species or group of animals or plants die — The rising temperatures in the area have put many animal species at risk of extinction.

extreme weather (noun): weather that is unusual or severe, such as heatwaves, hurricanes, floods, and droughts, thought to be becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change — For several years in the early 1800s extreme weather allowed people to hold fairs and skate on the Thames in London as the river regularly froze over at Christmas.

fossil fuels (noun): non-renewable energy sources formed from the remains of plants and animals that died in the geological past — Burning fossil fuels such as coal and petrol releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

global cooling (noun): a long-term trend of falling average temperatures on Earth linked to natural periodic climate change — In the 1970s, some experts were actually concerned about the possibility of global cooling and a new ice age.

global warming (noun): a long-term trend of rising average temperatures on Earth. Compare global cooling — Thanks to global warming, worldwide temperatures are thought to have risen by about 1°C since the Industrial Revolution in the early-1800s.

the greenhouse effect (noun): the process that occurs when greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, warm the earth's surface, and cause temperatures to rise — Summers are getting hotter as a result of the greenhouse effect.

greenhouse gases (GHG) (noun): certain gases in the earth's atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour that trap heat and cause temperatures to rise — To slow down the rate of global warming, we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

heatwave (noun): an extended period (usually days or weeks) of abnormally hot weather — The country is experiencing one of its worst heatwaves since the 1950s.

hydroelectric power (noun): renewable energy that is produced from running water, typically water flowing over a dam — Most of our electricity comes from hydroelectric power.

ice age (noun): one of Earth's periodic cold times (typically lasting thousands of years) during which polar and mountain ice sheets extend further over Earth's surface — Like all the others, the most recent ice age brought a series of glacial advances and retreats. In fact, we are technically still in an ice age.

ice floe (noun): a sheet of ice floating on sea water — Ice floes vary in size from 20m across to more than 10km. Try not to get stranded on an ice floe with a polar bear.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (noun): a United Nations body assessing the science of climate change and its effects — The IPCC writes reports on the latest climate science to inform policymakers and the public.

IPCC (abbreviation): Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Kyoto Protocol (noun): a 1992 international treaty committing signed-up countries to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions — In 2015 another legally-binding climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, entered into force and effectively replaced the Kyoto Protocol.

man-made climate change, human-caused climate change, anthropogenic climate change (noun): long-term changes in Earth's climate that are primarily caused by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — Man-made climate change must be distinguished from natural climate change caused by volcanic eruptions, ocean currents, Earth's orbital changes, solar variations and internal variability.

methane (CH4) (noun): a colourless greenhouse gas present in the atmosphere, often a product of human activity — Methane has a shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2 but is a much more potent greenhouse gas.

mitigation (noun): steps taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to slow or prevent climate change — Some governments are promoting renewable energy as part of their mitigation strategy.

natural greenhouse effect (noun): a process by which greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere trap heat from the sun and prevent it from escaping back into space, thus regulating the planet's temperature to a range that is hospitable to life — When people talk about the greenhouse effect they normally mean an additional effect caused by human activities.

net zero (noun): the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible — Some people argue that net zero can be achieved only if we compensate for human activity through carbon removal.

Nord Stream methane leaks (noun): 2022 underwater gas leaks from Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, caused by illegal sabotage bombings — The Nord Stream methane leaks were the world's biggest single man-made escape of methane gas, itself 80 times worse for the planet than CO2 in terms of accelerating climate change.

nuclear energy (noun): a highly concentrated form of energy released during nuclear reactions. By many measures nuclear energy is not renewable but in terms of climate change it does not release greenhouse gases. It nevertheless poses serious risks and challenges — France derives some 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy.

ocean acidification (noun): the process by which the ocean becomes increasingly acidic due to the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can have harmful effects on marine life — Ocean acidification threatens the survival of many marine species.

offset (verb): compensate for emissions with actions that attempt to take carbon dioxide out of the cycle — One way to offset the carbon we generate is by planting trees to absorb it.

Paris Agreement (noun): a 2015 international treaty to limit global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit it further to 1.5°C — The Paris Agreement is an international agreement aimed at addressing climate change and keeping global warming within safe limits.

per-capita emissions (noun): the amount of greenhouse gas emissions per person in a country — While China's total CO2 emissions are twice those of the USA, its per-capita emissions are half.

ppm (abbreviation): parts per million, used to measure the number of carbon dioxide molecules per million molecules of dry air — When comparing carbon dioxide ppm measurements scientists have to take altitude into account.

rainforest (noun): a luxuriant, dense area of trees rich in biodiversity, typically found in tropical areas — The country's northern region consists primarily of rainforest.

renewable energy (noun): energy that comes from natural sources that are constantly replenished and do not release greenhouse gases, such as solar, wind and hydropower — The use of solar and wind power is increasing as more people recognize the benefits of renewable energy.

sea level rise (noun): an increase in global sea levels due to the melting of glaciers and ice sheets and the thermal expansion of seawater caused by global warming — Coastal towns and small island states are especially vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding.

weather (noun): conditions in the atmosphere at a given time, such as rain, wind and temperature. See climate vs weather — Many of the celebrations were cancelled due to the wet and windy weather.

Reference and further resources