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Climate emergency: glossary

Adaptation: changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damage or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.

Carbon emissions: the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

Carbon footprint: the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions. A carbon footprint can be calculated for an individual, family, office block, corporation etc.

Climate breakdown: very serious and harmful changes in the world’s weather, in particular the fact that it is believed to be getting warmer as a result of human activity increasing the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Climate crisis: global warming and climate change, and their consequences. The term has been used to describe the threat of global warming to the planet, and to urge aggressive climate change mitigation.

Climate justice: a term used to frame global warming as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature. This is done by relating the causes and effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice. Climate justice examines concepts such as equality, human rights, collective rights, and the historical responsibility for climate change.

Extinction and biodiversity crises: the rapid loss of species and the rapid degradation of ecosystems, which is being accelerated by human activities. In particular, extinction is driven by human behaviours such as destruction of habitat and increased global warming, and at present scientists estimate that as many as 99% of the species at the threshold of extinction are there due to human activities. A reduction in biodiversity threatens the predictable ecosystems and services from the natural world that humans and animals rely on to live.

Global south: a broad term used to refer to the regions of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. The use of the phrase ‘global south’ marks a shift from a central focus on development or cultural difference toward an emphasis on geopolitical relations of power.

Greenwashing: behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.

Just transition: a term originating in the trade union movement,  described by the Climate Justice Alliance as a movement to “build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. ‘Just transition’ describes both where we are going and how we get there.”

Mitigation: efforts to decrease the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere and reduce the current concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) by enhancing carbon sinks (e.g. increasing the area of forests).  

Net-zero emissions: net-zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. We reach net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away. This differs to ‘zero carbon emissions’, which requires no carbon to be emitted as the key criteria.

Sustainable: practices or outputs which satisfy the needs of the present without adversely affecting conditions for future generations.