Guide to Climate Crisis & Climate Action terminology

We know that the terminology around the Climate Crisis and Climate Action can be confusing, and there is a lot to learn within a very short space of time – including why we’ve capitalised both Climate Crisis and Climate Action in this very sentence.

We hope that our guide to important terminologies will help overcome any confusion and help you better understand where you can make a difference through discussing these issues with your friends and family, while also empowering you to take action.

Climate Crisis – The term Climate Crisis refers to the highly dangerous and potentially irreversible changes that are happening to our planet, primarily as a result of human actions. This is about long-term patterns of change around the world, and shouldn’t be confused with weather – which is a short-term change in a localised area. You may have also heard the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’, but we prefer Climate Crisis as it is a catch-all term that really drives home the urgency and importance of the issue.

Climate Action – Climate Action defines the important steps that we can all take to address the Climate Crisis. We know that it is possible to stop the Climate Crisis, and that it is human activity that is the main driving force behind it, but time to act is running out quickly. Climate Action covers all of the important steps we can all take to address this emergency before it’s too late, and the capitalisation of this term really drives home its importance

Global North – This term is used to refer to industrialised and wealthy countries, typically those in the Northern Hemisphere. These nations have historically been referred to as “the West”, but using the term Global North reflects a focus more on their UN Human Development Index score rather than their geographical location. These nations typically have the highest greenhouse gas emissions, but are the least impacted by the Climate Crisis at present

Global South – The companion term to Global North, this reflects those nations that are either pre-industrial or which are becoming industrialised. They typically have considerably lower emissions, but are already dealing with the effects of the Climate Crisis, such as droughts, floods, forest fires, and famines

1.5°C Warming – This is the single most important number in the Climate Crisis. This refers to the average global temperature change compared to pre-industrial levels, and is the most critical indicator of how severe the Climate Crisis has become. Scientific consensus tells us that we must stay below 1.5°C of warming if we are to maintain a liveable planet, or otherwise face irreversible changes that will impact all life on Earth

Renewable Energy – This refers to energy that is generated from a source which is not depleted when it’s used, such a wind, solar or geothermal energy. For our purposes on Pole to Pole, we will define renewable energy as sustainable sources of energy – rather than those that are unsustainable but still renewable, such a biofuels

Fossil Fuels – Fossil fuels are carbon-based fuels that formed naturally in the Earth’s crust from dead plants and animals over the course of millions of years. Common forms include coal, oil and gas. These fuels are the leading cause of the Climate Crisis, as carbon that has been locked away for millions of years can be released through burning in just a matter of seconds

Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Often shortened to GHGs, greenhouse gases worsen the Climate Crisis by absorbing infrared radiation in our atmosphere, causing it to warm – it’s the same principle used for greenhouses used to grow plants. Except that greenhouse gas emissions are trapped in Earth’s atmosphere and greatly magnify solar heating of the planet, worsening the Climate Crisis. These gases are emitted when fossil fuels are burned and include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide

Air Pollution – Air pollution is not the same as the Climate Crisis, but it is a contributor to it. In its simplest form, air pollution refers to the number of harmful particles in the air which come from the burning of chemicals, such as fossil fuels. Air pollution not only worsens the Climate Crisis, but has a major impact on public health, especially respiratory and heart conditions, while it’s also been linked to developmental disorders and early death

PPM – Often heard in conjunction with air pollution, PPM stands for “parts per million”. This refers to the amount of pollutants within a sample of the air, and is an important measure to understand the levels of various greenhouse gases present at any time. While scientific consensus suggests that 350 PPM is considered safe, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are now above 420 PPM and rising.

Carbon Sequestration – This is the opposite of carbon emissions, as sequestration is about locking away carbon in either a solid or a liquid form – rather than it being a gas in the atmosphere. This can be either a natural or an artificial process, with natural examples including trees and forests, wetlands and bogs and the ocean – all of which need to be protected to help us soak up carbon emissions and keep them out of the atmosphere

Biodiversity – This is the definition of the variety of plant and animal life in the world, or a particular habitat. This is an important measure of the natural health of an area, as the greater the level of biodiversity, the more healthy and sustainable that area is. This can be an important indicator for the Climate Crisis, as the destruction of ecosystems and the impact of pollution has heavily impacted biodiversity

Afforestation – This refers to the act of planting new forests or expanding existing forests. This is a great form of Climate Action, as trees naturally clean the air around us and are a perfect natural form of carbon sequestration

Rewilding – This is a term used to define the process of restoring an area of land to its natural state. This is an important act of conservation that can see plants, insects and animals reintroduced into a landscape to improve biodiversity and the health of an ecosystem

Carbon Neutral – Carbon neutrality is achieved when the CO2 emissions created by human activity are balanced by the amount of carbon dioxide being removed from the air – for example, the amount of CO2 absorbed by trees or oceans. However, carbon neutral doesn’t mean you’re not adding new CO2 into the atmosphere, it just means that you have to take the same amount out

IPCC – This is the abbreviation for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is comprised of thousands of the world’s best and brightest climate scientists and they issue regular reports on the state of the Climate Crisis

COP – COP stands for the Conference of Parties and is the name of the governing body of the UN Climate Change Convention. You will likely be more familiar with its regular events, such as COP26, where world leaders come together to discuss the Climate Crisis and commit to how they might solve it

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