One good thing to come from the UN Climate Conference currently underway in Glasgow is a massive increase in media attention on the climate crisis — but for those who don’t live and breathe climate organizing, it can be a confusing rush of acronyms and buzzwords.
We gathered some of the most common terms COP26 coverage throws around as part of our ongoing work to demystify COP itself, as well as the ins and outs of our fight to end fossil finance by bringing #PeopleToTheFront. Hope this helps!
Conference Of the Parties, more commonly referred to as ‘COP’, is a global climate summit held every year by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 196 countries are members of the UNFCCC. This year is the 26th COP and it is being held in Glasgow, Scotland. It is the 5th COP since the famous Paris Agreement was born in 2015 and is an important chance to keep the globally agreed 1.5°C target alive.
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was created by 196 parties at COP21 in Paris in 2015. The goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably 1.5°C and limit greenhouse gas emissions to Net-Zero. Rich countries should also provide ‘climate finance’ to support poorer countries. It works on a 5-year cycle of National Determined Contributions (NDCs) — plans to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
National Determined Contributions (NDCs) are non-binding national pledges and plans by each country to reduce national emissions and actions they will take to build resilience and adapt to the impacts of climate change. The aim is to hold warming well below 2°C, preferably 1.5°C as set out in the Paris Agreement.
1.5°C degrees above pre-industrial levels was identified by climate scientists, in the IPCC report, to be the tipping point. 2°C of heating was regarded as the outer limit of safety, beyond which the impacts of climate change – heat waves, floods, sea level rises, storms and other extreme weather – would become catastrophic. However, small island states pointed to science that showed they’d be inundated, by sea level rises and storm surges, above 1.5°C.
Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, 197 countries agreed to try to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C. To achieve this aim, countries need to reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2050. However, net zero would only be viable if every country in the world were moving in the same direction and at the same pace.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a UN body which evaluates climate change science and releases reports commissioned by the world’s 195 national governments. The reports examine scientific evidence for climate change including: the extent to which human activity is the cause,environmental impacts, and adaption to and mitigation of climate change. Their results are an agreed upon basis for COP negotiations.
Climate justice looks at the climate crisis and climate action through a human rights lens, relating the causes and effects of climate change to concepts of environmental justice and social justice. At the forefront is an acknowledgement that climate change does not impact all people equally — the people and areas least responsible for climate change broadly suffer its gravest consequences.
A Just Transition prioritises the social interventions needed to secure workers’ rights and livelihoods when economies are shifting to sustainable production, combating climate change and protecting biodiversity. A healthy, fairer economy and greener future can and should co-exist. The process for achieving this should be a fair one that does not cost workers or community members their livelihoods.
Fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) continue to play a dominant role in global energy systems. Fossil fuels are a non-renewable, finite energy resource and are incredibly harmful to people and the planet. They release carbon dioxide when they burn which increases global heating, and are one of the major drivers of the climate crisis. Fossil fuel extraction has also been heavily linked with human rights violations.
Renewable energy is generated from natural processes that are replenished within a human time scale. They’re often promoted as an alternative to fossil fuels as their impact on the environment is usually much lower. They can be generated from solar, wind, ocean, hydropower, biomass, geothermal resources etc. Renewable energy sources can be inaccessible, however, and there have been issues surrounding scalability and land rights.
Fossil fuel companies can only build new coal mines, gas pipelines or oil wells because of the money they get from different sources — whether that’s borrowing from banks, selling shares to investors, or getting subsidies from governments. This is what we mean by fossil fuel finance. Ending this flow of money is one of our best chances of keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
A financial institution is a company engaged in the business of dealing with financial and monetary transactions such as deposits, loans, investments, and currency exchange. This includes banks, trust companies, insurance companies, brokerage firms, and investment dealers.
Climate mitigation refers to efforts to cut or prevent the emission of greenhouse gases in order to keep global heating below 1.5C. It is also used to talk about attempts to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Mitigation can include using new technologies, swapping fossil fuels for clean energy sources, behaviour changes, or making older technology more energy efficient.
Climate adaptation refers to the changes in processes, practices, and structures that have been developed to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already happening, as well as to prepare for future impacts. There is no one size fits all approach, and communities from all over the world must be involved in conversations around climate adaptation.
To solve the climate crisis, governments need to commit to reducing emissions. Rich nations need to put money into supporting low-income countries to be able to set ambitious climate related targets and deal with climate impacts. In COP language, this amount of money needed to address climate change is called ‘climate finance’. It should respond to the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.
Global South countries suffer the worst impacts of the climate crisis, yet have contributed the least. They are left with no option but to borrow to finance climate mitigation and adaptation, and fund recovery after an extreme climate event, thus creating debt. Climate finance – which should respond to the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ – is currently placing a financial burden onto the shoulders of the Global South.
Frontline communities are those that experience the impacts of the climate crisis first and most severely. This includes those whose homes are on islands that are at risk of being underwater and communities who have been forced to live next to harmful fossil fuel extraction sites. Many frontline communities are often also impacted by socio-economic factors.
MAPA stands for ‘Most Affected People & Areas’ — the people and regions who are the least responsible for, but hit the hardest by, the impacts of the climate crisis. Factors are not just limited to geographical aspects but also socio-economic aspects that systematically make it difficult to adapt. MAPA also includes Black, Indigenous and People of Colour and marginalised sectors in Global North countries as well as those in Global South countries.
Global North is used to describe a grouping of countries with similar socio-economic and political characteristics. The Global North is a term often used to identify higher-income countries on one side of the so-called divide. The term does not inherently refer to a geographical North.
Global South is used to describe a grouping of countries with similar socio-economic and political characteristics. The Global South is a term often used to identify lower-income countries on one side of the so-called divide. The term does not inherently refer to a geographical South.
Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression by providing misleading information or withholding information about how environmentally sound a person, a company, or a product is. People and companies often use this misleading information as a ‘social license’ to gloss over their contributions to, or complicity in, the climate crisis.