The fight against climate change and the move towards net-zero emissions can seem a bit complex with so many new terms and definitions you may have never heard of before.
To help, we're going to simplify 20 important terms about climate change and net-zero so that you can hopefully grasp these ideas more easily and have a better understanding of the climate struggle and how you can help.
Let's start with climate change. According to the United Nations, it's about long-term shifts in weather patterns and temperatures. Whilst this process does happen naturally due to changes in the sun's activity or other natural extreme events like volcanic eruptions, humans have sped up this process dramatically since the industrial revolution and caused more extreme weather events like drought, flooding, and heatwaves.
NASA explains global warming as the long-term rise in Earth's average temperature, thanks to humans and their greenhouse gas emissions. Again the earth's warming was a natural process but it was extremely gradual and after the industrial revolution the number of heat-trapping gasses in the atmosphere increased which has warmed the earth's average temperature. Think about the melting ice caps and rising sea levels – all fallout from global warming.
NASA again defines the greenhouse effect as the way in which this heat is trapped in the earth, the process in which gasses trap the sun's heat. The greenhouse effect keeps the Earth warm enough to support life, but then humans interfere by burning fossil fuels the effect goes into overdrive, which leads to global warming.
Therefore, greenhouse gasses are the ‘heat trapping’ gasses, they include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapour which create the heat-trapping blanket.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas released during the production and transport of coal, oil, and natural gas, says the EDF. It also comes from farming livestock and other agricultural practices. Whilst a lot less methane is released than CO2 25% of global warming is estimated to be driven by methane, methane has 80 times the warming power of CO2 as it absorbs much more energy in the atmosphere than CO2.
The 3 different categories of carbon emissions.
Scope 1: This is the direct GHG emissions that a company makes from operations that are owned or controlled by the company itself, such as a company’s fleet of vehicles used by the company.
Scope 2: These are the emissions made indirectly in the running of the company, such as heating, lighting or cooling an office, or factory.
Scope 3: This is the big one, it relates to the indirect emissions generated by the business. For most businesses, Scope 3 accounts for more than 70% of their carbon and that is why it is crucial it is calculated and can then be dealt with.
According to the WWF, your carbon footprint is explained as “total greenhouse gas emissions you directly and indirectly cause”, so the total amount of greenhouse gasses generated by your actions. For example, choosing to bike or walk instead of driving reduces your carbon footprint, or being a large meat eater makes your carbon footprint higher.
Renewable energy, as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, is energy generated from naturally replenished sources, such as solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power. These types of energy are replenished at a faster rate than they are consumed meaning that they will never run out.
Fossil fuels are therefore non-renewable energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas, which were formed over millions of years from the remains of ancient plants and animals. For example, burning petrol and diesel for vehicles contributes to carbon emissions.
Net-zero emissions are about balancing the greenhouse gas emissions produced and those removed from the atmosphere, which reduces the impact of climate change. Ensuring that an equal amount of carbon is removed or offset from the atmosphere as it is put into it. Imagine a company that plants trees to offset the carbon it emits – that's aiming for net-zero.
Closely linked to carbon neutrality, which is defined as achieving net-zero carbon emissions.
Carbon offsetting is a way of compensating for your greenhouse gas emissions by investing in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere such as planting trees or buying carbon credits.
Carbon sequestration, according to the USGS, is the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide to reduce its concentration. Methods of carbon sequestration involve tree planting or direct air capture, you can read our full blog on carbon capture here.
The Paris Agreement was a global agreement adopted by nearly all nations in 2015, to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It was signed by 195 countries and is the most important climate agreement to date.
Mitigation, according to the IPCC, involves actions taken to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas emissions. Think of switching from fossil fuel energy to renewables like wind and solar power.
Deforestation, as defined by the Rainforest Foundation UK, is the clearing or destruction of forests, mainly for farming, logging, or cities, resulting in the loss of habitats and higher carbon dioxide levels. Imagine vast areas of forest being cut down for palm oil plantations.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation explains a circular economy as one that aims to minimise waste and make the most of resources by recycling, reusing, and reducing consumption. It is based on three principles: eliminate waste and pollution, circulate products and materials and regenerate nature.
The NOAA explains ocean acidification as the ongoing decrease in seawater pH, caused by absorbing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which threatens marine ecosystems.
Sustainable development is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations' abilities to meet their own needs
It is defined by Greenpeace as “a PR tactic that's used to make a company or product appear environmentally friendly without meaningfully reducing its environmental impact”, greenwashing greatly damages the eco movement as it reduces people's trust in sustainability claims reducing involvement. You can read our blog on Greenwashing and how to avoid it here.
These are just 20 of the most mentioned terms in the climate change movement, with important links to many eco-organisations aiming to increase people's knowledge about the climate crisis in order to gather more support and involvement. Our page also has a variety of blogs on these topics if you want to learn in more depth.
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