Glossary Terms

Glossary Word Definition Source
Adapt / Adaptation Adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment. Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation. Source
Adaptive management Adaptive Management is a decision process that promotes flexible decision making that can be adjusted in the face of uncertainties as outcomes from management actions and other events become better understood. Careful monitoring of these outcomes both advances scientific understanding and helps adjust policies or operations as part of an iterative learning process. Adaptive management also recognizes the importance of natural variability in contributing to ecological resilience and productivity. Source
Anthropogenic emissions Emissions of greenhouse gases, greenhouse gas precursors, and aerosols associated with human activities. These include burning of fossil fuels for energy, deforestation, and land-use changes that result in net increase in emissions. Source
Carbon dioxide (CO2) A naturally occurring gas, and also a by-product of burning fossil fuels and biomass, as well as land-use changes and other industrial processes. It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas that affects the Earth’s radiative balance. It is the reference gas against which other greenhouse gases are measured and therefore has a Global Warming Potential of 1. Source
Carbon emissions Carbon dioxide emissions or CO2 emissions are those stemming from the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture of cement; they include carbon dioxide produced during consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels as well as gas flaring. Source
Carbon sequestration The uptake and storage of carbon. Trees and plants, for example, absorb carbon dioxide, release the oxygen and store the carbon. Fossil fuels were at one time biomass and continue to store the carbon until burned. See also sinks. Source
Conservation Human use and stewardship of the environment such that natural resources and biodiversity are self-sustaining. Source
Climate change Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer). Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcing, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. Note that the United Nations 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. See also climate variability. Source
Climate models A numerical representation of the climate system based on the physical, chemical, and biological properties of its components, their interactions and feedback processes, and accounting for all or some of its known properties. The climate system can be represented by models of varying complexity—that is, for anyone component or combination of components a “hierarchy” of models can be identified, differing in such aspects as the number of spatial dimensions, the extent to which physical, chemical or biological processes are explicitly represented, or the level at which empirical parameterizations are involved. Coupled atmosphere/ocean/sea-ice general circulation models (AOGCMs) provide a comprehensive representation of the climate system. There is an evolution towards more complex models with active chemistry and biology. Climate models are applied as a research tool to study and simulate the climate, but also for operational purposes, including monthly, seasonal, and interannual climate predictions. Source
Climate variability Climate variability refers to variations in the mean state and other statistics (such as standard deviations, the occurrence of extremes, etc.) of the climate on all temporal and spatial scales beyond that of individual weather events. Variability may be due to natural internal processes within the climate system (internal variability), or to variations in natural or anthropogenic external forcing (external variability). See also climate change. Source
Connectivity/ Landscape connectivity Condition in which the spatial arrangement of ecosystems allows organisms and ecological processes to move across the landscape. Connectivity is the opposite of fragmentation. Source
Degradation/ Land degradation Land degradation is the reduction or loss of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rain—fed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest or woodlands resulting from natural processes, land uses or other human activities and habitation patterns such as land contamination, soil erosion and the destruction of the vegetation cover.  See also environmental degradation. Source
Environmental degradation Environmental degradation is the deterioration in environmental quality from ambient concentrations of pollutants and other activities and processes such as improper land use and natural disasters. Source
Fossil Fuel Fossil fuel is a generic term for non-renewable natural energy sources such as coal, natural gas and oil that were formed from plants and animals (biomass) that existed in the geological past (for example, hundreds of million of years ago). Fossil fuels are carbon-based and currently supply most human energy requirements. Source
Fragmentation/ Habitat fragmentation The act or process of splitting land into smaller or different pieces, both physically and ecologically. Source
Global warming Global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming can occur from a variety of causes, both natural and human induced. In common usage, “global warming” often refers to the warming that can occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. See also climate change. Source
Global warming Global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming can occur from a variety of causes, both natural and human induced. In common usage, “global warming” often refers to the warming that can occur as a result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities. See also climate change. Source
Global Warming Potential For each greenhouse gas, a Global Warming Potential (GWP) has been calculated to reflect how long it remains in the atmosphere, on average, and how strongly it absorbs energy. Gases with a higher GWP absorb more energy, per pound, than gases with a lower GWP, and thus contribute more to warming Earth. Source
Greenhouse gases/ Greenhouse gas 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 infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere, and clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and ozone (O3) are the primary greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Moreover there are a number of entirely human-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as the halocarbons and other chlorine- and bromine- containing substances, dealt with under the Montreal Protocol. Besides CO2, N2O, and CH4, the Kyoto Protocol deals with the greenhouse gases sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Source
Mitigate/ Mitigation A human intervention or activity to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases. Source
Resilience/ Resiliency / Resilient Amount of change a system can undergo without changing state. Source
Scenario planning Scenario planning is used to create and assess alternate futures in a systematic fashion, and then make decisions that are effective in a variety of futures. To cope with uncertainty, scenario planners envision decisions and management strategies that are robust given a range of possible futures. Source
Scenarios for future emissions A plausible and often simplified representation of the future climate, based on an internally consistent set of climatological relationships, that has been constructed for explicit use in investigating the potential consequences of anthropogenic climate change, often serving as input to impact models. Climate projections often serve as the raw material for constructing climate scenarios, but climate scenarios usually require additional information such as about the observed current climate. A “climate change scenario” is the difference between a climate scenario and the current climate. Source
Sinks Any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas or aerosol from the atmosphere. Source
Tipping point(s) “Tipping point” is most typically used in the context of climate change and its consequences to describe situations where the climate system-encompassing the atmosphere, oceans, land, cryosphere, and biosphere-reaches a point at which there is a disproportionately large, singular response (e.g., a phase transition) as a result of only a moderate additional change in the inputs to the system (e.g., an increase in the CO2 concentration). Exceeding one or more tipping points could potentially result in abrupt changes in the climate or any component of the climate system. A tipping point is defined in Alley et al. (2002) to “occur when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a translation to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause.” These changes would produce impacts at a rate and intensity far greater than slow and steady changes currently being observed (and in some cases, planned for) in the climate system. Source
Uncertainties An expression of the degree to which a value (e.g., the future state of the climate system) is unknown. Uncertainty can result from lack of information or from disagreement about what is known or even knowable. Source
Uncertainty Uncertainty refers to a state of having limited knowledge. Uncertainty can result from lack of information or from disagreement over what is known or even knowable. Uncertainty may arise from many sources, such as quantifiable errors in data, or uncertain projections of human behavior. Uncertainty can be represented by quantitative measures or by qualitative statements. Source
Vulnerability The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity. Source
Vulnerability assessment(s) A vulnerability assessment is the process of identifying, quantifying, and prioritizing (or ranking) the vulnerabilities in a system. Source