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FFS explains: the A to Z of COP26

FFS explains: the A to Z of COP26 6

The COP26 summit in Glasgow can be overwhelming for those uninitiated in climate change jargon.

Ferret Fact Service has tried to clear up some of the confusion with an A to Z of terms you are likely to hear during the conference.

A – Adaptation

This is basically how the world will have to adapt to the future climate. This term is used for solutions and changes that must be made to reduce the harmful impacts of climate change, such as sea level rises and extreme weather causing food insecurity through crop destruction or failed harvests. Human adaptations could be things like early weather warning systems, flood defences or drought resistant crops. 

B – Biofuels

A biofuel is any fuel which is made out of living things such as plants, algae or animal waste. It is considered a renewable form of energy, but is not without controversy. It has been used as a means to help reduce emissions from the transport sector, which makes up 24 per cent of all direct carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel. Studies have called into question whether biofuels are truly carbon neutral, due to the emissions associated with growing and manufacturing, and the CO2 emitted when it is burned for fuel. 

C – Carbon markets

So-called carbon markets are a controversial part of the conversation around COP26. Essentially, the idea is that if one country, or industry, pays for carbon emissions to be reduced in another, the first can count that towards their emission targets. The argument behind carbon trading is that it doesn’t matter where greenhouse gases are emitted in the world, as long as there is an overall reduction, and this process makes cutting emissions cheaper.

However, critics point to significant corruption within carbon markets, and say the system does not encourage countries to do more than the minimum required to achieve their targets, when scientists are saying we need to go further and faster to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

D – Deforestation

Cutting down vast swathes of forest, often to create space for farming or to keep up with demands for timber, has a major impact on climate change. Forests cover more than 30 per cent of the globe, but the World Bank has estimated that 1.3 million square km of forests have been destroyed since 1990. Forests play a central role in absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

The UK reportedly will push for a new agreement on reversing global deforestation at the summit. 

E – Emissions targets

National or international targets which have been set to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases which are put into the atmosphere. Most countries, including all those in the Paris Agreement, have developed climate change plans which set emissions reduction targets across different sectors. There is disagreement on how plans should be laid out and enforced, as well as the pace at which different nations are willing to cut their emissions. 

F – Fridays for Future

This is one of the names of the ongoing climate protest, spearheaded by activist Greta Thunberg. 

It began as a weekly school strike by pupils demanding action on the climate emergency from world leaders, protests which grew to yearly strikes joined by millions of people. 

Campaigners including Thunberg will be taking part in a protest march in Glasgow during COP26 on Friday 5 November which thousands are expected to attend. 

G – Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases are those which trap heat in our atmosphere, creating the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’ which warms the earth’s surface. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, which is emitted from the burning of fossil fuels (such as oil, coal and gas), waste, trees and other materials. Methane and nitrous oxide are also major greenhouse gases, which are emitted by agriculture and industry. 

Emissions of greenhouse gases are the chief driver of climate change. 

H – HFCs

HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons, began to be commercially used as an alternative to the CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, which were banned in the late 1980s due to their depletion of the ozone layer. 

While HFCs were designed to save the ozone there is increasing concern at their harmful effect on the climate. They are commonly used in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosols.

I – Ice Loss

The rate of decrease of ice on Earth is one of the most recognisable markers of climate change. According to research Earth lost 28 trillion tonnes of ice between 1994 and 2017, and ice loss appears to have markedly increased in the past 30 years. 

J – Just Transition

The term was developed by the trade unions to highlight the need to protect workers and communities while the shift is made away from fossil fuels and towards a low carbon economy. About 100,000 workers are currently supported by the oil and gas industry in Scotland, and millions more across across the globe. Campaigners are attempting to secure jobs and communities as the world moves away from reliance on these industries. 

K – Kyoto Protocol

Kyoto was the first agreement which created emissions targets country-by-country. It was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, and mandated overall global targets for greenhouse gas emissions, as well as individual targets for different nations. The agreement recognised that industrialised nations were responsible for most emissions, so the onus was put on these nations to reduce their emissions accordingly. Many developing nations were excluded from the mandated agreement but asked to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. 


This is an acronym that stands for land use, land-use change and forestry. This term recognises that carbon dioxide emissions can be reduced by using the natural ability of vegetation and soils to remove carbon from the atmosphere. 

This makes the restoration and maintenance of land crucially important in the fight against climate change. Targets and regulations in the LULUCF sector will be a significant part of COP26. 

M – Migration

As the climate changes areas of the world become less hospitable for people to live in, be that through land loss as sea levels rise, crops failing, or extreme weather destroying homes. This has led to the rise of ‘climate refugees’ who are unable to continue in their communities, and displacement is likely to increase as climate change continues. 

N – NDCs

Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) are the plans for climate action which have been developed by each country. They are at the centre of the agreements made in the Paris Agreement, as they lay out the contribution each country will make to tackling climate change. The overall aim is to keep global temperature change down. 

O – One-point-five degrees

The goal of the Paris Agreement was to keep global temperature rise at least below 2 degrees celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. This level aims to mitigate the worst potential impacts of climate change, and provide a target to initially aim for. Experts believe this increase will likely happen in the next ten years unless significant action is taken. 

P – Paris Agreement

A legally-binding treaty on climate change, it was adopted by 196 countries in 2015 at COP21. It aims to keep warming at 1.5 degrees, and countries agreed to be held to targets to reduce their emissions across sectors. Nations who signed up to the agreement have to develop climate change plans (NDCs) which they are committed to achieving. 

Q – Queen

The Queen was due to attend the climate conference, but after a spell in hospital will pre-record her opening speech.

The royal family has been criticised for its emissions, and it recently emerged that the Queen’s lawyers secretly lobbied Scottish ministers to change a proposed law to keep her private land exempt from a carbon emissions initiative.

R – Renewables

Unlike fossil fuels this energy comes from sources which are naturally replenished, such as sun, wind, and water. However, the production and infrastructure required to build some renewable energy sources can have an impact on the environment. 

The impact is small when compared to fossil fuels such as coal, oil or natural gas which require an enormous amount of environmental destruction to extract, and emit greenhouse gasses when they are burned. 

S – Sink

A carbon ‘sink’ is something that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, without releasing as much back in. This means it has a net negative impact on the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. Examples of carbon sinks include vegetation, forests, soil, peatlands and seas. The protection and expansion of natural carbon sinks forms a significant part of efforts to fight climate change. 

T – Tipping point

When our impact on the climate reaches a point where we do irreversible damage to an element of our environment – with enormous knock-on effects.

There are a number of potential tipping points cited by scientists including the loss of the Amazon rainforest, the melting West Antarctic ice sheet, and the Gulf stream current stopping, which helps to regulate the climate in Scotland.


It stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNFCCC came into force in 1994, and 197 countries have agreed to it. COP26 is the conference of the nations who are part of the UNFCCC. 

V – Vulnerability

Vulnerability and risk are terms often used to show how much impact climate change will have on certain areas, people, infrastructures compared to others. Coastal areas and small Pacific islands like Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands are more affected by rising sea levels, for example. 

W – Water Vapour

Water vapour is water in its gaseous form, caused by the heating of water or ice. Technically, water vapour is the most abundant greenhouse gas, but it is not mainly caused by humans. However, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can increase the amount of water vapour as temperatures rise. Water’s ability to trap heat means vapour can amplify the temperature change caused by other greenhouse gasses caused by humanity. 

X – XR

XR is the acronym of climate protest group Extinction Rebellion. It is a decentralised movement known for its mass protests which aim to shut down roads and events to highlight the climate emergency. Some of the group’s actions have caused controversy due to their impact on commuters. XR activists will be present at a number of events surrounding COP26. 

Y – Youth Summit

The Conference of Youth takes place immediately before COP26 starts in Glasgow. In its 16th year the UN conference is meant to prepare young activists and policymakers for their attendance at COP26.

Z – (Net) Zero

Net zero occurs when we are extracting as much carbon from the atmosphere as we are putting into it, meaning our net emissions are zero. Reaching net-zero is the eventual aim of all the countries participating in the Paris Agreement, and is the only way for the world to halt global warming. The targets set in the nationally determined contributions of each nation in the Paris climate agreement aim to achieve net-zero as soon as possible. 

Photo thanks to iStock/Coatesy

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