It is only seven months until the eyes of the world fall on Glasgow as it hosts COP26. The conference comes with some terminology which might be unfamiliar. This article is designed to bring you quickly up to speed with the words and phrases you’ll be hearing a lot about in the coming months.
The very basics...
- COP – ‘Conference of the Parties’, the parties being the 197 signatories to the UNFCCC treaty. Most of the parties are UN member states, but they also include the EU, Palestine and two UN non-members (Niue and the Cook Islands).
- COP26 – ‘Conference of the Parties number 26’, the 26th time that the signatories to the UNFCCC treaty have met. The UK will host COP26 at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow between 1 and 12 November 2021.
- UNFCCC – ‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’, an international treaty addressing climate change, which came into force on 21 March 1994. It was agreed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (better known as the ‘Earth Summit’) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Other need to knows...
- Adaptation - Adjustments in natural or human systems to respond to actual or expected climate change impacts, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities.
- Circular economy – Traditional manufacturing processes are linear and follow the pattern of ‘make, use, dispose’. A circular economy is one where products are made to enjoy an extended lifespan and are reused or recycled when no longer functional or required.
- Clean energy – Energy which comes from a natural, renewable source, for example, sunlight, wind or water. Also referred to as ‘renewables’ The UK Government publishes information on energy trends every quarter. In the last quarter for which figures are currently available, July to September 2020, renewable energy generation in the UK was 40.2% of total generation.
- Climate change – A significant variation of average weather conditions over several decades or more. A variety of factors can influence the earth’s climate, both natural and man-made. It is now almost universally accepted by the scientific community and by world leaders that carbon emissions relating to human activity are causing rapid and dangerous climate change. The term ‘global warming’ is often used interchangeably with ‘climate change’, but global warming is just one aspect of climate change, which also includes record floods and raging storms.
- Climate crisis/climate emergency – Climate change is happening at an unprecedented rate, and environmental conditions are now critically impacting ecosystems across the world. We have entered a crisis, or emergency.
- CMA – ‘Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement’. COPs also serve as meetings of the parties to the Paris Agreement. COP26 will therefore also be CMA 3. The CMA oversees the implementation of the Paris Agreement and takes decisions to promote its effective implementation. All countries that are parties to the Paris Agreement are represented at the CMA, while countries that are not parties participate as observers.
- CMP – ‘Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol’. COPs also serve as meetings of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce costs and improve coordination between the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. COP26 will therefore also be CMP 16. All countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol are represented at the CMP, while countries that are not parties participate as observers.
- ESG – Environmental, social and governance. The three factors used to measure the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company or business. The concept of ESG has been around for a long time, but the actual term was used for the first time in around 2005 in the context of investments. It has continued to gain currency since then.
- Green finance – A financial initiative or activity that aims to ensure a better environmental outcome, for example investments that encourage the development of green projects or minimise the environmental impact of existing ones. The UK Government published its nationwide ‘Green Finance Strategy’ in July 2019, with the stated aim of ‘transforming finance for a greener future’.
- Greenhouse gases – Gases which trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere causing a ‘greenhouse’ effect. The Kyoto Protocol identifies six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Most greenhouse gases are released during the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, but activities such as agriculture and deforestation are also significant sources.
- Green recovery – Making the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic environmentally sustainable, with the intention to ‘build back better’.
- IPCC – ‘Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’, the body which provides scientific guidance to the UNFCCC. The IPCC produces an Assessment Report (AR) every five years, with AR6 due out in 2021/2022.
- Kyoto Protocol – The protocol to the UNFCCC which was adopted at COP 3 in Kyoto in 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005, whereby industrialised countries committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with targets set according to their capabilities. It has been superseded by the Paris Agreement, although in principle industrialised countries still have obligations under it.
- Mitigation - In the context of climate change, mitigation involves taking action to reduce sources or enhance ‘sinks’ of greenhouse gases. Examples of reducing sources of greenhouse gas emissions include using fossil fuels more efficiently for industrial processes or electricity generation, switching to renewable energy sources and improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Examples of enhancing sinks of greenhouse gases include expanding forests and peatlands to remove greater amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- NDC – ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’. NDCs are the commitments made by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change under the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement requires each party to it to prepare, communicate and maintain the NDC that it intends to achieve. The UK set out its most recent NDC in December 2020, which commits the UK to reducing economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.
- Net Zero - Achieving a balance between the greenhouse gases put into the atmosphere and those taken out. Also referred to as ‘carbon neutral’. There are two different routes to achieving this, which work together: reducing existing emissions and actively removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The UK is committed to a zero-carbon economy by 2050 as part of the global initiative ‘Race To Zero’.
- Paris Agreement (Paris Climate Change Agreement) - The agreement which was made at COP 21 in Paris in 2015 whereby all signatory parties agreed to take action to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 C. The United States withdrew from the Agreement in November 2020, but rejoined on 20 January 2021.
- Sustainability – Not an easy term to define, but sustainability focuses on meeting our own current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. It is similar to the term ‘sustainable development’ – ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Sustainability is not just environmental, but relates also to social and economic needs.
- 25 Year Environment Plan – In January 2018, the UK Government published its 25 Year Environment Plan, ‘A Green Future’, setting out a framework for improving the environment. It proposes direct action to address what are considered the biggest environmental priorities of our age: air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency.