27 Climate Change Terms You Must Know and Understand

Climate change has been staring us right in the face for the better part of the century now and yet many of us do not believe while so many completely deny its existence. If you are a climate denier, go ask someone living in Madagascar or the sinking areas of The Maldives, Vanuatu, or Tuvalu. The story will be different and climate change will be the culprit. There are terms related to climate change that are thrown around so often that it makes me wonder about how many of us actually grasp their meaning.

The rapidly changing climatic conditions have triggered a chain of events with terms like climate adaptation, climate mitigation, and climate migration thrown in the mix. I am certain that many of us do not know or understand these climate change terms and how they impact people in the real world. Well, we are going to learn about the dictionary of climate change terms.

Anthropogenic Global Warming

Anthropogenic global warming is a process where the long-term increase in the earth’s average temperature has been induced by human activities such as industrialization, vehicular pollution, unabated urbanization, and agricultural expansion. These human-triggered changes increase the greenhouse effect and raise the temperature, contributing to climate change.

Carbon Emissions

Carbon emissions are emissions generated from the consumption of fossil fuels and the manufacturing of cement. These emissions include carbon dioxide that is produced during the burning of solid, liquid, and gas fuels along with gas flaring. The major sources of these emissions are electricity and heat, agriculture, transportation, forestry, and manufacturing.

Climate Finance

Climate finance is defined as the flow of funds to all activities, programs, and/or projects meant to help address climate change in all economic sectors, anywhere in the world. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Standing Committee on Finance defines it as finance that is aimed at reducing emissions and augmenting carbon sinks in order to decrease the susceptibility of and maintain and increase the resilience of, human and ecological systems to adverse impacts of climate change.

Carbon Footprint

Carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases that are generated by human actions. Greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) keep the earth warm and habitable for living organisms; however, an increase in their amount can lead to intensification in global temperature. Carbon footprint can be generated through the burning of fossil fuels, land clearance, production and consumption of food, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation, and other activities.

Carbon Neutral

Carbon neutrality is a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. Through the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or through balancing the emissions with removal, carbon neutrality can be reached. The term is used in the context of carbon dioxide-releasing practices linked with transport, energy production, agriculture, and industry. Carbon neutrality is a useful way to deal with climate change.

Carbon Negative

Being carbon negative means that you produce less than zero carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gasses. The process requires a company, sector, or country to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it generates. Most companies and sectors offset more carbon through carbon capture, sequestration, or avoidance to be carbon negative.

Carbon Offset

A carbon offset is defined as a reduction or elimination of carbon dioxide emissions made in order to reimburse for emissions made someplace else. These offsets are measured in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, where one ton of carbon offset represents the removal or decrease of one ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.

Carbon Positive

Carbon positive is a state where a business, state, or country produces the amount of carbon emissions that is over zero. All businesses, entities, or sectors with a carbon footprint are carbon positive, thus contributing to climate change. Carbon-positive projects can make noteworthy assistances to address the carbon intensity and damaging impacts of earlier building practices and lifestyles by offsetting situations where carbon-zero structures are not possible.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration refers to the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide in a carbon pool in order to reduce global climate change. Carbon sequestration is a naturally occurring process but it can also be improved or achieved through techniques such as carbon capture and storage projects.  Geologic and biologic (also known as biosequestration) are two main types of carbon sequestration.

Carbon Sink

A carbon sink is defined as anything that soaks up more atmospheric carbon than it releases. Carbon can be anything, natural or otherwise, which captures and stores carbon-containing chemical compounds for an indefinite period and removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Major carbon sinks include plants, oceans, and soil. However, much of the organic carbon collected in the soil of agricultural areas have been depleted due to intensive farming.

Climate Adaptation

Climate adaptation refers to the process of altering behavior, systems, and lifestyles to secure people, economies, and the environment from the impacts of climate change. Adaptation aims to take actions either incremental (with the central aim to maintain the essence and integrity of a system) or transformative (to change the fundamental attributes of a system in response to climate change and its effects).

Climate Change

The United Nations defines climate change as long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural or man-made. Since the 1800s, anthropogenic activities have been the major cause of climate change, largely due to the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, which generate heat-trapping gases. This, in turn, has been increasing global temperatures, triggering a chain of natural events such as rainfall shifts, sea-level rise, and glacier melting.

Climate Change Denial

Climate change denial is denial, dismissal, or unwarranted doubt in contradiction to the scientific evidence on climate change, including the extent to which it is triggered by humans, its impact on the natural and human world, or the ability to adapt to global warming by human activities. The term climate change denial can also be implied when people or social groups accept the scientific evidence but fail to adapt in in their acceptance into action.

Climate Crisis

The climate crisis is a term that describes global warming and climate change along with their impacts on humans and the natural world. It is used to indicate the threat of changing climatic conditions and to urge aggressive actions to mitigate them. Climate crisis includes a wide range of changes on the planet including escalating environmental degradation, natural disasters, extreme weather, food and water insecurity, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and dying corals.

Climate Justice

Climate justice means a concept that addresses the just division, fair sharing, and unbiased distribution of the afflictions of climate change and its alleviation and accountabilities. It includes ensuring representation, inclusion, and the protection of the rights of those most susceptible to climate change impact.

Climate Migration

Climate migration is a process when people are forced to leave their homes due to extreme weather events, including floods, heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. These migrations can also be triggered by slower-moving climate challenges such as rising sea levels and exacerbating water crises. Most climate migrants move within their homelands, while some force international migrations.

Climate Mitigation

Climate mitigation is a process aimed to avoid and reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane or remove these gases from the atmosphere to counter global warming. Mitigation can help reduce emissions by making shifts to sustainable energy sources, conserving energy and increasing efficiency, and enhancing the carbon sinks to accumulate harmful gases.

Climate Resilience

The term climate resilience defines the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to hazardous events or trends associated with climate change. By improving climate resilience, the climate susceptibility of various communities, states, and countries in regard to the effects of climate change can be reduced. It includes assessing how changing climatic conditions create new or alter current climate-related risks and taking steps to better combat with these threats.

Climate Risk

Climate risk is defined as the potential for climate change to trigger an adverse chain of events for human or ecological systems. Climate risk includes effects on lives, livelihoods, health, economic, social, and cultural assets, infrastructure, ecosystems, and species. Climate risk can be identified by three basic elements: probability, exposure, and consequences. Each of the climate risks has its own natural characteristics, including geographic area and time of the year when it’s most likely to occur, and its intensity.

Climate Sensitivity

Climate sensitivity is a measure of how much the earth’s surface will warm or cool after a particular factor triggers an alteration in its climate system. It refers to the global temperature rise after the amplification of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere compared to pre-industrial levels. It is a key measure in climate science to understand the definitive results of anthropogenic global warming.


Decarbonization is a term that means the reduction of carbon. It refers to the process of decreasing carbon intensity and lowering the amount of greenhouse gas emissions due to fossil fuel consumption. Decarbonization is the transformation to an economic system that sustainably diminishes and reimburses carbon emissions.


Desertification is a term that defines the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid regions. It does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It is caused by human activities, improper land management, deforestation, overexploitation of soil, and climatic variations, causing drylands to lose their biological productivity to natural processes.

Environmental Degradation

Environmental degradation can be defined as the negative effects of any human activity on the environment. It refers to the decline of the environment through the depletion of resources such as air quality, water, and soil, the devastation of ecosystems, habitat loss, wildlife extinction, and pollution.

Global Warming

Global warming is a term used to define the long-term heating of the earth’s surface witnessed since the pre-industrial period due to anthropogenic activities, especially fossil fuel burning. The term is not synonymous with climate change. Heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and ozone capture incoming radiation from the sun and cause global warming.

Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb and emit radiant energy within the thermal infrared range, triggering the greenhouse effect. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and ozone in the lower atmosphere. These gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the average temperature of the planet to increase.

Habitat Loss

Habitat loss is a term used to refer to the decline in the amount of space where a particular species or a group of species can survive and thrive. Habitat destruction means that a natural habitat cannot support its native species, which coerces these species to either migrate or die. Consequently, it reduces biodiversity and species abundance.

Sea Level Rise

Sea level rise indicated an increase in the level of the planet’s oceans owing to the impacts of global warming. Unabated burning of fossil fuels, causing a rise in global temperatures, is one of the leading causes of sea level rise. If the oceans’ levels increase at the current rate, many of the coastal regions across the globe will be submerged before the end of the century.

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