Climate change: what do all these terms mean?
Confused about carbon?
We want to make the language about climate change and our environment easy for everyone to understand. Learn more about key terms you might have heard with our list of definitions.
Climate change definitions
What is climate change?
Although changes do occur naturally, human activity has meant that the average temperature has risen at a much faster rate.
What are greenhouse gasses?
Gases that are released into the atmosphere. They trap rays from the sun and cause the temperature of the Earth to rise, also known as the ‘greenhouse effect’.
Where do greenhouse gases come from?
Greenhouse gases are mainly made up of carbon dioxide (80%), but also include methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases. Although greenhouse gases exist naturally, humans have caused them to increase dramatically. Burning fossil fuels, like gas or coal is the main source of these gases, along with livestock from farming and waste.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the impact we have on the environment. Most of our activity – directly or indirectly - leaves an impact on the environment that can be measured as carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent.
What does carbon neutral, or net zero, mean?
Carbon neutral means reducing direct carbon emissions to as close to zero as possible. Even though it could be impossible to create zero emissions, the amount of CO2 that is emitted can be offset through funding.
Offsetting refers to accredited natural schemes (such as planting forests) that remove carbon from the atmosphere.
What is green recovery?
We may have heard ‘green recovery’ more since the economy took a hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. But essentially, it’s growing the economy in a way that supports the slowing and reversal of climate change caused by human activity. It could include anything from investments in new technology to behavioural change - as long as it aims to cut emissions and have a positive effect on the climate.
What is COP?
COP stands for Conference of the Parties and is an annual United Nations Climate Summit to discuss how to tackle climate change. Each COP has been important, but extra significance is being placed on COP26 because many climate experts and governments now believe the climate is changing at rate that will be difficult, or in some cases impossible, to reverse.
What is the Paris agreement?
It’s a legally binding international treaty on climate change adopted in Paris in 2015. The goal is to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. We’re committed to align our own activity to this agreement