Eduhelpnet World Education Forum Australia Science Teachers Association Tasmania

Glossary of common climate change terms



Adaptation: Ways of coping with the impacts of global warming on species, ecosystems and human society.

Anthropogenic: caused by human activities.

Anthropogenic Climate Change: Climate change caused by human activities.



Biochar is a charcoal produced from biomass. In some cases, the term is used specifically to mean biomass charcoal produced via pyrolysis.

Biochar is employed commonly as a soil amendment. More information here.

Biodiversity: life in all its forms, essential to maintain functioning ecosystems that provide services essential for human survival and quality of life.


Carbon capture and storage (CCS): the process of capturing greenhouse gas pollution from coal or gas power plants and storing it underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. Could reduce emissions by up to 70-80% from a power plant.

Carbon credit: is used in emission trading schemes (see emissions trading), where one credit gives the owner the right to emit one tonne of CO2.

Carbon cycle: the exchange and movement of carbon - a chemical element - through the atmosphere, oceans and water, living things, soils and geological deposits.

Carbon dioxide (CO2): the most common greenhouse gas (other major greenhouse gases include methane and nitrous oxide). Carbon dioxide is released by burning fossil fuels, land clearing/deforestation and cropping.

Carbon neutral: where an individual or company's carbon emissions are effectively reduced to zero through a combination of reducing energy consumption, using renewable energy and offsetting the remainder by (for example) planting trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Carbon offsetting: where an investment is made in a project that will lead to the prevention or removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (for example, planting trees or building renewable energy power stations to avoid the construction of coal ones).

Carbon price: puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions to create a disincentive for their release (and incentive to capture or avoid them). A carbon price can be imposed through a carbon tax, an emissions trading scheme (which fixes emission level and allows price to vary) or a variety of other mechanisms.

Carbon sequestration: the uptake and storage of carbon (eg by trees, or burying underground).

Carbon sink: forests and oceans – so named because they store more carbon than they release.

Clean coal: a term used to describe technologies designed to reduce the emissions amount of CO2 from coal fired-power staions that goes into the atmosphere.

Clean development mechanism (CDM): one of three market mechanisms established by the Kyoto Protocol, designed to promote emission reduction projects in developing countries.

Climate change: strictly speaking - significant changes from one climatic condition to another - but now commonly taken to refer to the increase in surface temperature of the Earth caused by human activities. Also often called 'global warming', 'anthropogenic climate change', 'anthropogenic global warming' and the 'enhanced greenhouse effect'.


Dangerous climate change: a level of climate change that will have severe impacts on societies, economies and the natural world. WWF defines dangerous climate change as rise in average global surface temperatures of 2ºC or more (above pre-industrial revolution average surface temperatures).


Emissions trading: a scheme that allows companies either reduce emissions or pay for the right to pollute (with the money paid being used to reduce emissions elsewhere – often in developing countries).

Energy efficiency: is using less energy to provide the same amount of heating, cooling or other energy service. Usually refers to cutting energy wastage (like turning off unused lights, plant and equipment).


Fossil fuel: fuel of biological (plant and animal) origin and largely comprised of carbon and hydrogen. Coal, gas and oil are all fossil fuels.


Global warming: see 'climate change'.

Greenhouse gases: the gases (carbon dioxide, water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and various fluorocarbons) that blanket circling the Earth and which prevent solar radiation from the Sun being reflected back into space.

Greenhouse effect: the effect created by the band of greenhouse gases that blanket the Earth. The greenhouse effect keeps the Earth's surface within a range and at a level that makes life on Earth (as we know it) possible.

Greenhouse pollution: pollution of the Earth's atmosphere by excessive emissions release of greenhouse gases by humans. This increases the volume of gases in the atmosphere, traps more solar radiation and leads to global warming.

Greenhouse gas intensity: 'greenhouse gas intensity' refers to the volume of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of energy or economic output. It is a relative measure in that, if the economy is growing, greenhouse intensity per unit of economic output may be falling but greenhouse gas emissions may be increasing in absolute terms. Greenhouse gas intensity is to be contrasted with greenhouse gas emission reductions where the volume of gases emitted falls in absolute terms.




Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): the United Nations scientific body that investigates the causes and impacts of climate change, and publishes special scientific reports.




Kyoto Protocol: an international agreement made in 1997 which sets emission reduction targets for developed countries and establishes mechanisms to reduce the emissions of developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol is an addendum to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.




Mitigation of global warming: actions to reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions (in order to avoid global warming).

MRET (Mandatory Renewable Energy Target): a scheme to increase the amount of electricity generated from 'renewable energy' sources.


NETT: (National Emissions Trading Taskforce- Australia): Comprises senior representatives of state and territory governments.

NGERS:(National Greenhouse & Energy Reporting System- Australia):The system established by The National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007, as a single national framework for reporting greenhouse gas emissions, abatement actions and energy consumption and production by corporations from July 2008.


Offsets: Reductions or removals of greenhouse gas emissions that are used to counterbalance emissions elsewhere in the economy.


Ppm or ppb: parts per million or parts per billion – measure for the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.




Renewable energy: energy derived from the wind, the sun, the tides and other sources that, for all practical purposes, cannot be depleted (unlike fossil fuels, for example).


Sea level rise: one of the impacts of global warming.

Sequestration: the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere into trees, the oceans or deep underground.

Sinks:Natural or human activity that removes carbon from the atmosphere, such as the absorbtion of carbon dioxide by trees.




UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change): an international treaty that requires world governments to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.











Original list from: Supplemented and updated regularly.