Glossary of terms
The below terms have been adapted from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change glossary of terms, for the full list of terms please use this IPCC link.
To avoid giving credits to projects that would have happened anyway, rules have been specified to ensure additionality of the project i.e. to ensure the project reduces emissions more than would have occurred in the absence of the project. A project is additional if its proponents can document that realistic alternative scenarios to the proposed project would be more economically attractive or that the project faces barriers that carbon finance helps it overcome.
Planting of new forests on lands that historically have not contained forests.
The term is also synonymous with the term business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, although the term BAU has fallen out of favour because the idea of business as usual in century-long socio-economic projections is hard to fathom. In the context of transformation pathways, the term baseline scenarios refers to scenarios that are based on the assumption that no mitigation policies or measures will be implemented beyond those that are already in force and/or are legislated or planned to be adopted.
Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources, this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.
A fuel, generally in liquid form, produced from biomass. Biofuels currently include bioethanol from sugarcane or maize, biodiesel from canola or soybeans, and black liquor from the paper-manufacturing process.
Living or recently dead organic material.
Blue carbon is the carbon captured by living organisms in coastal (e.g., mangroves, salt marshes, seagrasses) and marine ecosystems, and stored in biomass and sediments.
The amount of CO2 the world can emit while still having a likely chance of limiting warming to the 2°C target. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, issued in 2014, estimates the world has burned through two-thirds of the budget, and WRI calculates we could spend it entirely in two decades if emissions continue unabated.
The term used to describe the flow of carbon (in various forms, e.g., as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon in biomass, and carbon dissolved in the ocean as carbonate and bicarbonate) through the atmosphere, hydrosphere, terrestrial and marine biosphere and lithosphere.
A naturally occurring gas, CO2 is also a by-product of burning fossil fuels (such as oil, gas and coal), of burning biomass, of land-use changes and of industrial processes (e.g., cement production). It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) that affects the Earth’s radiative balance. It is the reference gas against which other GHGs are measured and therefore has a global warming potential
Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS)
A process in which a relatively pure stream of carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial and energy-related sources is separated (captured), conditioned, compressed and transported to a storage location for long-term isolation from the atmosphere. Sometimes referred to as Carbon capture and storage.
Carbon dioxide capture and utilisation (CCU)
A process in which CO2 is captured and then used to produce a new product. If the CO2 is stored in a product for a climate-relevant time horizon, this is referred to as carbon dioxide capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). Only then, and only combined with CO2 recently removed from the atmosphere, can CCUS lead to carbon dioxide removal. CCU is sometimes referred to as carbon dioxide capture and use.
Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)
The unit of measurement that is used to compare the relative climate impact of the different greenhouse gases. The CO2e quantity of any greenhouse gas is the amount of carbon dioxide that would produce the equivalent global warming potential.
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR)
Anthropogenic activities removing CO2 from the atmosphere and durably storing it in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products. It includes existing and potential anthropogenic enhancement of biological or geochemical sinks and direct air capture and storage, but excludes natural CO2 uptake not directly caused by human activities.
A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organisation, event or product over a set period of time, typically 1 year. For simplicity of reporting, it is often expressed in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent of other GHGs, emitted.
The amount of emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) released per unit of another variable such as gross domestic product (GDP), output energy use or transport.
Carbon neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint, refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions by balancing a measured amount of carbon released with an equivalent amount sequestered, avoided or offset.
One Carbon Offset represents a quantity of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, measured in units (metric tons) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) that occur as a result of a discrete project. The emissions reductions from that project can be sold to enable the purchaser/owner to claim those GHG reductions as their own. These reductions can then be used to reduce, or offset, any GHG emissions for which the purchaser is responsible.
Carbon offset standard
A standard that helps to ensure that carbon offset projects meet certain quality requirements, such as additionality and third party verification. Several offset standards exist within the voluntary and compliance carbon markets and each has a different set of requirements depending on its focus and scope.
The process of storing carbon in a carbon pool.
Certified Emission Reduction (CER)
Certified Emission Reduction – a carbon credit created by a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project. One CER corresponds to one ton of CO2e emission reductions.
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
A mechanism defined under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol through which investors (governments or companies) from developed (Annex B) countries may finance greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries (Non-Annex B), and receive Certified Emission Reduction Units (CERs) for doing so.
Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. Note that the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in its Article 1, defines climate change as: ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.’ The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition and climate variability attributable to natural causes.
Concept of a state in which human activities result in no net effect on the climate system. Achieving such a state would require balancing of residual emissions with emission (carbon dioxide) removal as well as accounting for regional or local biogeophysical effects of human activities. The same concept as carbon neutrality but rather than solely focusing on CO2 emissions, it extends to zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. including emissions beyond carbon dioxide).
Corporate Social Responsibility
Organizational self-regulation whereby an organization measures and ensures it is operating with current ethical, legal, environmental and international standards and norms.
The life cycle of a product that can be reused and recycled without loss of material integrity.
The life cycle of a product from generation to when the product leaves the reporting company, i.e. at the factory gates.
The life cycle of a product from generation to disposal.
The process by which countries, individuals or other entities aim to achieve zero fossil carbon existence. Typically refers to a reduction of the carbon emissions associated with electricity, industry and transport.
Conversion of forest to non-forest.
A market-based instrument aiming at meeting a mitigation objective in an efficient way. A cap on GHG emissions is divided in tradeable emission permits that are allocated by a combination of auctioning and handing out free allowances to entities within the jurisdiction of the trading scheme. Entities need to surrender emission permits equal to the amount of their emissions (e.g., tonnes of CO2). An entity may sell excess permits to entities that can avoid the same amount of emissions in a cheaper way. Trading schemes may occur at the intra-company, domestic, or international level (e.g., the flexibility mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol and the EU-ETS) and may apply to carbon dioxide (CO2), other greenhouse gases (GHGs), or other substances.
Carbon-based fuels from fossil hydrocarbon deposits, including coal, oil, and natural gas.
Greenhouse gas (GHG)
Greenhouse gases are those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of terrestrial radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere itself and by clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3) are the primary GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere. Moreover, there are a number of entirely human-made GHGs in the atmosphere, such as the halocarbons and other chlorine- and bromine-containing substances, dealt with under the Montreal Protocol. Beside CO2, N2O and CH4, the Kyoto Protocol deals with the GHGs sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
The deceptive or misleading use of advertising and marketing to overstate an organizations’ environmental or sustainable practices.
The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty adopted in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, at the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP3) to the UNFCCC. It contains legally binding commitments, in addition to those included in the UNFCCC.
When an emission reduction from a carbon offset project in one area causes an increase in emissions somewhere outside of the project scope i.e. where conserving a forest in one region shifts logging activity to another area of forest.
Life cycle assessment (LCA)
Compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its life cycle.
Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)
A term used under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) whereby a country that has joined the Paris Agreement outlines its plans for reducing its emissions. Some countries’ NDCs also address how they will adapt to climate change impacts, and what support they need from, or will provide to, other countries to adopt low-carbon pathways and to build climate resilience. According to Article 4 paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement, each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that it intends to achieve.
Removal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere by deliberate human activities, i.e., in addition to the removal that would occur via natural carbon cycle processes.
Net zero CO2 emissions
Net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are achieved when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced globally by anthropogenic CO2 removals over a specified period. Net zero CO2 emissions are also referred to as carbon neutrality.
Net zero emissions
Net zero emissions are achieved when anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. Where multiple greenhouse gases are involved, the quantification of net zero emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon).
The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted on December 2015 in Paris, France, at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC. The agreement, adopted by 196 Parties to the UNFCCC, entered into force on 4 November 2016 and as of May 2018 had 195 Signatories and was ratified by 177 Parties. One of the goals of the Paris Agreement is ‘Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Additionally, the Agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement is intended to become fully effective in 2020.
An offset quality criterion which relates to the robustness and durability of the emission reduction generated by a carbon offset project.
Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+)
An effort to create financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development (SD). It is therefore a mechanism for mitigation that results from avoiding deforestation. REDD+ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
Planting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use.
A publicly accessible database that tracks ownership of carbon offsets over their lifetime.
To permanently remove carbon offsets from market to ensure that they are not re-sold. Offsets are usually retired by giving them individual serial numbers and placing them in an official registry.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The 17 global goals for development for all countries established by the United Nations through a participatory process and elaborated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including ending poverty and hunger; ensuring health and well-being, education, gender equality, clean water and energy, and decent work; building and ensuring resilient and sustainable infrastructure, cities and consumption; reducing inequalities; protecting land and water ecosystems; promoting peace, justice and partnerships; and taking urgent action on climate change.
A level of change in system properties beyond which a system reorganizes, often abruptly, and does not return to the initial state even if the drivers of the change are abated. For the climate system, it refers to a critical threshold when global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state.
Triple Bottom Line
How some organizations measure the economic, social and environmental performance of a project. Also known as “people, planet, profit” or “the three pillars.”
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The UNFCCC was adopted in May 1992 and opened for signature at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It entered into force in March 1994 and as of May 2018 had 197 Parties (196 States and the European Union). The Convention’s ultimate objective is the ‘stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.’ The provisions of the Convention are pursued and implemented by two treaties: the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.
An independent assessment of the carbon offset project design and baseline calculations by an accredited third-party auditor that takes place before the project activity is underway.
An independent assessment of quantification of actual emission reductions achieved by a carbon offset project, carried out by an accredited third-party auditor after the project is underway.
Verified emission reduction (VER)
A carbon credit created by a project which has been verified outside of the Kyoto Protocol. One VER corresponds to one ton of CO2e emission reductions.
Voluntary carbon market
The segment of the carbon market for carbon offset transactions outside of government-related regulatory schemes i.e. offsets purchased by organisations wishing to offset their carbon on a voluntary basis.