10 Climate Change Terminologies you must know in 2021

Net Zero, Global North, Green Economy, ESG, Clean Energy… chances are, that you are hearing these terms a LOT in news lately, but you are not really sure what they mean. As the companies and governments all around the world are bracing for climate change consequences and building climate action plans, these terms are quintessential in understanding the idea behind futuristic technologies, latest business strategies, upcoming economic models and government actions.

Read the following news snippets and see how many of these are you able to understand-

If you couldn’t completely comprehend what they are talking about, don’t fret. You will know it all in the next 5-7 minutes. Let’s find out and learn about 10 such common terms that you are definitely going to come across very frequently. We’ll start with the basics and progress to the advance terms in the easiest possible language and visuals! If you wish to know in depth, follow the embedded hyperlinks.

1. Fossil Fuels

The world’s main primary energy sources- petroleum (34%), coal (27%), and natural gas (24%) are called fossil fuels because they were formed from the fossilized, buried remains of plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Because of their origins, fossil fuels have a high carbon content that makes them polluting when burnt. These are obviously non-renewable (that will get exhausted one day) sources of energy.

Formation of fossil fuels. Source

2. Greenhouse Gases-

These are the gases that trap heat in the atmosphere coming from the sun and warm the planet (called greenhouse effect). These mainly include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane. Human activities like vehicular and industrial emissions are increasing the amount of these gases in the atmosphere which is eventually heating up the planet more than required. This increase in temperatures is causing global warming and climate change all over the world.

More greenhouse gases means more trapped heat making the planet hotter Source

3. Carbon Emissions/ Greenhouse Gas emissions

Burning of fossil fuels like coal for producing electricity and petrol combustion in vehicles releases around 35 billion tonnes (35 gigatonnes) of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere per year. These are called carbon emissions (emitting carbon into the air). Combined with greenhouse gases emitted by sources such as agriculture and industrial waste, in total becomes greenhouse gas emissions.

4. Carbon Footprint

It is the total greenhouse gas / carbon emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, or product through- the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance, AND the production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services.

Carbon Footprint of your food. source

5. Net Zero/ Carbon Neutral

Net-zero carbon dioxide emissions or Carbon Neutral means balancing emissions of carbon dioxide or negating its effects, which in turn results in Net Zero carbon emissions of a company/ country/ individual.
For example your company is responsible for X tons of carbon emissions every year, so you have to remove X tons of carbon from the air every year to become carbon neutral or net zero.
This can be done in 3 ways-

  • Simply eliminating emissions altogether from operations or productions by opting for renewable energy and using environmental friendly materials and processes. i.e. emitting 0 tons of carbon.
  • By removing carbon from the air using high end technology (which is at the moment extremely expensive and not scalable to tackle climate change). Read more here
  • By “offsetting” your emissions!

6. Carbon Offsetting

It is a way to compensate for your emissions by funding an equivalent carbon dioxide saving elsewhere. Our everyday actions, at home and at work, consume energy and produce carbon emissions, such as driving, flying and heating buildings. Carbon offsetting is used to balance out these emissions by helping to pay for emission savings in other parts of the world. Example- funding afforestation activities or building solar farms elsewhere in the world to compensate for your carbon emissions from non-clean electricity consumption . Consumers and businesses also voluntarily buy carbon offsets to compensate for their emission rather than reducing it.

How purchasing carbon offsets works. source

7. Clean Energy/ Green Energy

Clean energy is energy that comes from renewable, zero emission sources that do not pollute the atmosphere when used. Though there may be emissions involved for building its infrastructure, so it may not be 100% clean overall. It includes wind, solar, tidal, nuclear, hydrogen energy etc.

8. Global north- global south

It is not a not a geographic division! Global North represent the economically developed societies of Europe, North America, Australia, South Africa, amongst others, the Global South represents the developing countries of Africa, India, China, Brazil, Mexico amongst others. Global North is majoritarily responsible for climate change and the global south is at the forefront of facing its consequences even when it has very little contribution in emissions.

 Traditional definition of the North-South divide source


9.Green Economy

A green economy is defined as low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive economy. It pays as much attention to the natural resources that fuel the economy . It aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment. It involves switching to clean energy, reducing emissions to net zero and prioritizing restoring the ecological balance with careful use of natural resources.

10. ESG Investing/ Funds

Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) refers to the three central factors in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of investing in a company or business. ESG criteria are an increasingly popular way for investors to evaluate companies in which they might want to invest. Many mutual funds, brokerage firms, and robo-advisors now offer products that employ ESG criteria.

Many investors are not only interested in the financial outcomes of investments. They are also interested in the impact of their investments and the role their assets can have in promoting global issues such as climate action.

This was a very brief and simple introduction to these terms but I hope that you learned a lot of new information today that will help you process the latest news and information related to climate action and the world better. I will cover these topics in depth in future. Now go and educate your peers as well and flaunt your knowledge!

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