Climate Action Secretariat
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IPCC Definition "Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderate harm or exploits beneficial opportunities." The definition recognizes that humans can adjust to past ("actual") climate change and its impacts, or prepare for projected future ("expected") climate change and its impacts. Adaptation can include changes in behaviour, technology, institutions, policies, and other aspects of human systems.
Planting trees where none existed before. Afforestation can be used to increase the planet's carbon sinks.
The layer of gases surrounding Earth. It is about 480 kilometres thick, and mainly composed of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and a few other trace gases.
Base Year Emissions
GHG emissions in a specified (usually historical) year, against which future emissions are measured. Emission targets are often defined relative to base year emissions, e.g. 10% below 1990 emission levels.
Carbon (C) is the building block of life. It is the basic element in all living things, including 50% of the dry weight in the human body. In the form of carbon dioxide, carbon is a powerful greenhouse gas. However, the term "carbon" used in discussing climate change does not just to refer to carbon dioxide. It includes the other powerful greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide. Scientists are able to lump these six gases together under the name "carbon" by figuring out their carbon dioxide equivalent. So when we talk about "carbon footprint" and "carbon neutral," for example, we are referring to all the major greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
A colourless, odourless gas. It is formed during breathing, combustion, and decaying of organic materials (e.g., plants, animals). Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas, mainly emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels.
Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (CO2e)
The unit of measurement that defines the global warming potential (GWP) of the six greenhouse gases. CO2e is expressed in terms of the global warming potential of one unit of carbon dioxide. Expressing all greenhouse gases in terms of tonnes of CO2e allows the different gases to be grouped together.
The total amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activities. This is usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the major greenhouse gas. For example, when we burn fossil fuels to run our vehicles or heat our homes, we are releasing carbon dioxide. The food we buy gets to the grocery store by motor vehicle, and possibly train or plane, which emit CO2. Our carbon footprint is the sum of the CO2 emissions caused by our activities, usually calculated over a year.
Being carbon neutral refers to maintaining a balance between producing and using carbon. For example, we release carbon dioxide when we burn fossil fuels in vehicles. We can balance out those emissions by planting trees because vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide. There are many ways governments, industry and individuals can work towards being carbon neutral. An organization is carbon neutral if it has calculated its total emissions, taken measures to minimize those emissions, and used emissions offsets to net those emissions to zero. For more details, see: What You Can Do: Go Carbon Neutral (David Suzuki Foundation).
Processes that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they release, as part of the carbon cycle. For example, forests and oceans act as carbon sinks.
Forests can be planted specifically for this purpose, which is called carbon sequestration.
The process of increasing the carbon stored in a reservoir other than the atmosphere, in order to reduce carbon dioxide emitted by human activities. Carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere through such actions as planting forests (trees absorb CO2). This removal is temporary, though, because CO2 returns to the atmosphere when plants die or are burned. Carbon dioxide can also be captured from flue gases or from processing fossil fuels and stored underground.
A surcharge on the carbon content of oil, coal, and gas that discourages the use of fossil fuels and aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. B.C. has introduced a carbon tax that will be revenue neutral, meaning all revenue generated by the tax will be returned to individuals and businesses through reductions in other taxes.
A mandated restraint in a scheduled timeframe that puts a "ceiling" on the total amount of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions that can be released into the atmosphere. This can be measured as gross emissions or as net emissions (emissions minus gases that are sequestered).
Cap and Trade System
Cap and trade systems set a specific limit on GHG emissions. They promote the trading of emissions allowances between emitters who can meet the cap efficiently and those who face more of a challenge in reducing emissions.
The climate of an area is its local weather conditions — such as temperature, precipitation (rainfall, snow, etc.), humidity, sunshine, cloudiness, wind, and air pressure. It is the weather averaged over a long period of time. Some people say climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get.
(Global) Climate Change
Changes in the climate of the earth as a whole, caused by human activities that release greenhouse gases.
Involves the natural reactions between the gases in the atmosphere, the planet’s water, ice, the land and living things, and solar energy. Together, they determine the earth's climate.
The direct human-induced conversion of forested land to nonforested land.
The release of substances (pollutants) into the atmosphere from natural or human sources.
A market mechanism that allows emitters (countries, companies or facilities) to buy emissions from or sell emissions to other emitters. Emissions trading is expected to bring down the costs of meeting emission targets by allowing those who can achieve reductions less expensively to sell excess reductions (e.g. reductions in excess of those required under some regulation) to those for whom achieving reductions is more costly.
The fundamental substance of everything in the universe. When we are talking about the environment, energy is the power we get from burning fossil fuels; electricity; and nuclear power — along with the more green options: solar and wind power.
Cutting down on energy use to reduce emissions caused by such energy-generating processes as the combustion of fossil fuels and wood, and power plants.
Fossil fuels, also known as mineral fuels, are natural resources such as coal, oil and natural gas. They are called “fossil” fuels because they are formed from the remains of ancient plant and animal life.
The progressive rise of the earth’s surface temperature thought to be caused by the enhanced greenhouse effect. Global warming may be responsible for changes in global climate patterns.
Global Warming Potential (GWP)
A measure of how much a given mass of greenhouse gas is estimated to contribute to global warming. It is a relative scale that compares the gas in question to that of the same mass of carbon dioxide (whose GWP is by definition 1). A GWP is calculated over a specific time interval and the value of this must be stated whenever a GWP is quoted. (Wikipedia)
The heating that occurs when greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide trap heat escaping from the earth and radiate it back to the surface. The gases are transparent to sunlight but not to heat and thus act somewhat like the glass in a greenhouse.
Greenhouse Effect: Enhanced
The enhancement of the greenhouse effect. The enhanced greenhouse effect is probably being caused by human activities – especially the burning of fossil fuels – that are increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. This is making the atmosphere warm beyond its natural level.
Greenhouse Gases (GHGs)
Several important gases in the earth’s atmosphere: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, other trace gases and water vapour. Surrounding the earth like a giant greenhouse, they maintain the earth’s climate. The six greenhouse gases, included under the Kyoto Protocol are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
One of the six main greenhouse gases. Synthetic industrial gases, mainly used in refrigeration and other applications as substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which deplete the stratospheric ozone layer. HFCs have global warming potentials thousands of times that of CO2.
Measuring sticks that track the results achieved by governments, industries and individuals to protect and improve the environment.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
A panel of over 2,000 climate experts set up by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization to review scientific information on climate change. The IPCC provides the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with established scientific information on climate change.
A database that lists, by source, the amount of air pollutants — such as greenhouse gases — discharged into the atmosphere over a given time period, such as a year.
An international agreement adopted in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. The Kyoto Protocol sets binding emission targets for developed countries that would reduce their emissions on average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels.
A colorless, odourless gas. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas (one of the six major GHGs), mainly released by landfills, cattle farming, rice farming, and oil-and-gas production.
Actions that reduce the sources of greenhouse gases, or enhance carbon sinks. Examples include using fossil fuels more efficiently for industrial processes or electricity generation, switching from oil to natural gas as a heating fuel, improving the insulation of buildings, and expanding forests and other sinks to remove greater amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (UNFCCC)
Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
A colourless gas with a slightly sweet odour (also called "laughing gas"). One of the six major greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide is emitted by chemical fertilizers and burning fossil fuels.
Offsets are project-based emission reductions or removals that are used to meet voluntary or regulatory emission reduction obligations. Offset programs usually establish a number of specific eligibility criteria, and often require that offsets be real, quantifiable, verifiable or verified, surplus or additional, permanent and unique.
Synthetic industrial gases whose global warming potential thousands of times that of CO2. PFCs are one of the six major greenhouse gases.
Planting of forests on lands that have recently previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use. Reforestation can be used to increase the planet's carbon sinks. The Kyoto Protocol limits reforestation to planting forests on lands that have not been forested since 1990.
“Electronic databases that track and record emissions and emission allowance holdings, retirements, cancellations and transfers.” (California Air Resources Board)
“A component of the climate system, other than the atmosphere, which has the capacity to store, accumulate, or release” carbon or a greenhouse gas. “Oceans, soils, and forests are examples of reservoirs of carbon.” (IPCC)
See Carbon Sink.
A process, activity or operation that releases pollutants, such as greenhouse gases.
Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6)
A synthetic industrial gas that is one of the six main greenhouse gases. Its global warming potential is estimated to be 22,200 times that of CO2.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The UNFCCC was signed in 1992 by over 150 countries and the European Community. Its goal is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human-caused interference with the climate system.