The more you read about climate change, the more you learn and become comfortable with the vocabulary, which is sometimes so specific to the subject that it takes a while. 

For example, what does mean when people talk about carbon sink as opposed to carbon sequestration? What are the differences and relationships between greenhouse gases and CO2? How is climate change different from global warming? To simplify and clarify, we have also listed in this glossary some of the most commonly used words (like sustainability and resilience), phrases (like negative emissions or tipping point), and acronyms (like IPCC and GHG), which crop up regularly in the literature.

A Canadian company was kind enough to send us a glossary specific to heat pump technology including air source and geothermal which is replacing fossil fueled HVAC systems with electric all over the U.S. now.

And, if our glossary below is not sufficiently detailed for you, an ever more comprehensive glossary was developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).



One degree Celsius (1.8°F) of global warming over pre-industrial temperatures.

1.5°C warmer worlds

Projected worlds in which global warming has reached and, unless otherwise indicated, been limited to 1.5°C above  pre-industrial There is no single 1.5°C warmer world, and projections of  1.5°C warmer worlds look different depending on whether it is considered on a near-term transient trajectory or at climate equilibrium after several millennia, and, in both cases, if it occurs with or without overshoot. Within the 21st century, several aspects play a role for the assessment of risk and potential impacts in 1.5°C warmer worlds : the possible occurrence, magnitude and duration of an overshoot; the way in which emissions reductions are achieved; the ways in which policies might be able to influence the resilience of human and natural systems; and the nature of the regional and sub-regional risks. Beyond the 21st century, several elements of the climate system would continue to change even if the global mean temperatures remain stable, including further increases of sea level.


Two degrees Celsius (3.6°F) of global warming over pre-industrial temperatures. The Paris Agreement states the intention of parties to remain “well under” this upper limit.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

A UN resolution in September 2015 adopting a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity in a new global development framework anchored in 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015). See also Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

350 ppm

An atmospheric CO2 concentration of 350 parts per million by volume.

80 x 50

A target for reducing CO2 emissions used in U.S. states and in other countries, referring to an 80% reduction below 1990 levels by 2050.


In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.


The Annual Energy Outlook, a set of modeled results released annually by the U.S. government that forecasts the energy system under current policy for the next three decades.


A suspension of airborne solid or liquid particles, with a typical size between a few nanometres and 10 μm that reside in the atmosphere for at least several hours. The term aerosol, which includes both the particles and the suspending gas, is often used in this report in its plural form to mean aerosol particles. Aerosols may be of either natural or anthropogenic origin. Aerosols may influence climate in several ways: through both interactions that scatter and/or absorb radiation and through interactions with cloud microphysics and other cloud properties, or upon deposition on snow- or ice-covered surfaces thereby altering their albedo and contributing to climate feedback. Atmospheric aerosols, whether natural or anthropogenic, originate from two different pathways: emissions of primary particulate matter (PM), and formation of secondary PM from gaseous precursors. The bulk of aerosols are of natural origin. Some scientists use group labels that refer to the chemical composition, namely: sea salt, organic carbon, black carbon (BC), mineral species (mainly desert dust), sulphate, nitrate, and ammonium. These labels are, however, imperfect as aerosols combine particles to create complex mixtures.


Planting of new forests on lands that historically have not contained forests. For a discussion of the term forest and related terms such as afforestation, reforestation and deforestation, see the IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (IPCC, 2000)4, information provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2013)5 and the report on Definitions and Methodological Options to Inventory Emissions from Direct Human-induced Degradation of Forests and Devegetation of Other Vegetation Types (IPCC, 2003)6. See also ReforestationDeforestation.

Air pollution

Degradation of air quality with negative effects on human health or the natural or built environment due to the introduction, by natural processes or human activity, into the atmosphere of substances (gases, aerosols) which have a direct (primary pollutants) or indirect (secondary pollutants) harmful effect. See also Aerosoland Short-lived climate forcers (SLCF).


'Anthropocene’ is a proposed new geological epoch resulting from significant human-driven changes to the structure and functioning of the Earth System, including the climate system. Originally proposed in the Earth System science community in 2000, the proposed new epoch is undergoing a formalization process within the geological community based on the stratigraphic evidence that human activities have changed the Earth System to the extent of forming geological deposits with a signature that is distinct from those of the Holocene, and which will remain in the geological record. Both the stratigraphic and Earth System approaches to defining the  Anthropocene consider the mid-20th Century to be the most appropriate starting date, although others have been proposed and continue to be discussed. The  Anthropocene concept has been taken up by a diversity of disciplines and the public to denote the substantive influence humans have had on the state, dynamics and future of the Earth System. See also Holocene.


The gaseous envelope surrounding the earth, divided into five layers – the troposphere which contains half of the Earth’s  atmosphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the exosphere, which is the outer limit of the atmosphere. The dry atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen (78.1% volume mixing ratio) and oxygen (20.9% volume mixing ratio), together with a number of trace gases, such as argon (0.93 % volume mixing ratio), helium and radiatively active greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as carbon dioxide (CO2) (0.04% volume mixing ratio) and ozone (O3). In addition, the atmosphere contains the GHG water vapour (H2O), whose amounts are highly variable but typically around 1% volume mixing ratio. The atmosphere also contains clouds and aerosols. See also Troposphere, Greenhouse gas (GHG) and Hydrological cycle.


eGRID region comprising most of Arizona and New Mexico.

Base Case

The primary deep decarbonization pathway with all technologies and resources available according to best scientific estimates.


A scenario derived from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Annual Energy Outlook projecting the future evolution of the energy system given current policies.


Bioenergy with carbon capture and geologic sequestration.


Bioenergy with carbon capture and utilization of that carbon somewhere in the economy.


Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources, including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems (UN, 1992)9.


Energy derived from any form of biomass or its metabolic by-products. See also Biomass and Biofuel.


A fuel, generally in liquid form, produced from biomass. Biofuels currently include bioethanol from sugarcane or maize, biodiesel from canola or soybeans, and black liquor from the paper-manufacturing process. See also Biomass and Bioenergy.


Living or recently dead organic material. See also Bioenergy and Biofuel.


eGRID region comprising most of California.

Carbon budget

This term refers to three concepts in the literature: (1) an assessment of carbon cycle sources and sinks on a global level, through the synthesis of evidence for fossil fuel and cement emissions, land-use change emissions, ocean and land CO2 sinks, and the resulting atmospheric CO2 growth rate. This is referred to as the global carbon budget; (2) the estimated cumulative amount of global carbon dioxide emissions that that is estimated to limit global surface temperature to a given level above a reference period, taking into account global surface temperature contributions of other GHGs and climate forcers; (3) the distribution of the carbon budget defined under (2) to the regional, national, or sub-national level based on considerations of equity, costs or efficiency.

Carbon cycle

The term used to describe the flow of carbon (in various forms, e.g., as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon in biomass, and carbon dissolved in the ocean as carbonate and bicarbonate) through the atmosphere, hydrosphere, terrestrial and marine biosphere and lithosphere. In this report, the reference unit for the global carbon cycle is GtCO2 or GtC (Gigatonne of carbon = 1 GtC = 1015 grams of carbon. This corresponds to 3.667 GtCO2).

Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS)

A process in which a relatively pure stream of carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial and energy-related sources is separated (captured), conditioned, compressed and transported to a storage location for long-term isolation from the atmosphere. Sometimes referred to as Carbon capture and storage.

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR)

Anthropogenic activities removing CO2 from the atmosphere and durably storing it in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products. It includes existing and potential anthropogenic enhancement of biological or geochemical sinks and direct air capture and storage, but excludes natural CO2 uptake not directly caused by human activities. See also Mitigation.

Carbon neutrality

Carbon neutrality is achieved when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced globally by anthropogenic CO2 removals over a specified period. Carbon neutrality is also referred to as net zero CO2 emissions.

Carbon sequestration

The process of storing carbon in a carbon pool. See also Blue carbon, Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS)Uptake and Sink.

Carbon sink

A reservoir (natural or human, in soil, ocean, and plants) where a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas is stored. Note that UNFCCC Article 1.8 refers to a sink as any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.


Circular carbon economy, a term that refers to the capture and reuse of CO2 within the energy system.


Carbon capture and storage (also called carbon capture and sequestration).


Carbon capture and utilization (for economic purposes).

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)

A mechanism defined under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol through which investors (governments or companies) from developed (Annex B) countries may finance greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries (Non-Annex B), and receive Certified Emission Reduction Units (CERs) for doing so. The CERs can be credited towards the commitments of the respective developed countries. The CDM is intended to facilitate the two objectives of promoting sustainable development (SD) in developing countries and of helping industrialised countries to reach their emissions commitments in a cost-effective way.


Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather, or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization. The relevant quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.

Climate change

Climate change refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. Note that the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in its Article 1, defines climate change as: ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.’ The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition and climate variability attributable to natural causes.

Climate feedback

An interaction in which a perturbation in one climate quantity causes a change in a second and the change in the second quantity ultimately leads to an additional change in the first. A negative feedback is one in which the initial perturbation is weakened by the changes it causes; a positive feedback is one in which the initial perturbation is enhanced. The initial perturbation can either be externally forced or arise as part of internal variability.

Climate justice

Justice that links development and human rights to achieve a human-centred approach to addressing climate change, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly. This definition builds upon the one used by the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice (MRFCJ, 2018)35.

Climate neutrality

Concept of a state in which human activities result in no net effect on the climate system. Achieving such a state would require balancing of residual emissions with emission (carbon dioxide) removal as well as accounting for regional or local biogeophysical effects of human activities that, for example, affect surface albedo or local climate. See also Net zero CO2 emissions.

Climate system

The climate system is the highly complex system consisting of five major components: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the cryosphere, the lithosphere and the biosphere and the interactions between them. The climate system evolves in time under the influence of its own internal dynamics and because of external forcings such as volcanic eruptions, solar variations and anthropogenic forcings such as the changing composition of the atmosphere and land-use change.


Carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for human caused warming of the climate.

CO2 equivalent (CO2-eq) emission

The amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission that would cause the same integrated radiative forcing or temperature change, over a given time horizon, as an emitted amount of a greenhouse gas (GHG) or a mixture of GHGs. There are a number of ways to compute such equivalent emissions and choose appropriate time horizons. Most typically, the CO2-equivalent emission is obtained by multiplying the emission of a GHG by its global warming potential (GWP) for a 100-year time horizon. For a mix of GHGs it is obtained by summing the CO2-equivalent emissions of each gas. CO2-equivalent emission is a common scale for comparing emissions of different GHGs but does not imply equivalence of the corresponding climate change responses. There is generally no connection between CO2-equivalent emissions and resulting CO2-equivalent concentrations.


The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC Convention. All States that are Parties to the Convention are represented at the COP, at which they review the implementation of the Convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts and take decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention, including institutional and administrative arrangements.


Direct air capture, a technology that captures CO2 from ambient atmosphere.


Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.


The process by which countries, individuals or other entities aim to achieve zero fossil carbon existence. Typically refers to a reduction of the carbon emissions associated with electricity, industry and transport.


Conversion of forest to non-forest. For a discussion of the term forest and related terms such as afforestationreforestation and deforestation, see the IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (IPCC, 2000)15. See also information provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2013)16 and the report on Definitions and Methodological Options to Inventory Emissions from Direct Human-induced Degradation of Forests and Devegetation of Other Vegetation Types (IPCC, 2003)17. See also AfforestationReforestation.


U.S. Department of Energy.


More here:


A period of abnormally dry weather long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance. Drought is a relative term, therefore any discussion in terms of precipitation deficit must refer to the particular precipitation-related activity that is under discussion. For example, shortage of precipitation during the growing season impinges on crop production or ecosystem function in general (due to soil moisture drought, also termed agricultural drought), and during the runoff and percolation season primarily affects water supplies (hydrological drought). Storage changes in soil moisture and groundwater are also affected by increases in actual evapotranspiration in addition to reductions in precipitation. A period with an abnormal precipitation deficit is defined as a meteorological drought.


An ecosystem is a functional unit consisting of living organisms, their non-living environment and the interactions within and between them. The components included in a given ecosystem and its spatial boundaries depend on the purpose for which the ecosystem is defined: in some cases they are relatively sharp, while in others they are diffuse. Ecosystem boundaries can change over time. Ecosystems are nested within other ecosystems and their scale can range from very small to the entire biosphere. In the current era, most ecosystems either contain people as key organisms, or are influenced by the effects of human activities in their environment.


Evolved Energy Research, LLC.


Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency. eGRID divides the country into regions used in this study that are relevant for electricity planning and operations.

Electric vehicle (EV)

A vehicle whose propulsion is powered fully or mostly by electricity.


The Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is a useful tool for creating a culture of sustainable development and efficient management of available resources and energy by different organizations. EMAS requirements help organisations to implement system solutions to ensure that business objectives are achieved in compliance with environmental protection requirements. EMAS is also a reliable system for reporting by particular entities of their environmental impacts and facilitating an open dialogue with stakeholders.

Energy security

The goal of a given country, or the global community as a whole, to maintain an adequate, stable and predictable energy supply. Measures encompass safeguarding the sufficiency of energy resources to meet national energy demand at competitive and stable prices and the resilience of the energy supply; enabling development and deployment of technologies; building sufficient infrastructure to generate, store and transmit energy supplies; and ensuring enforceable contracts of delivery.


An open-source, bottom-up energy and carbon planning tool for use in evaluating long-term, economy-wide greenhouse gas mitigation scenarios.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Electricity interconnection and balancing authority comprising most of Texas.

Extreme weather event

An extreme weather event is an event that is rare at a particular place and time of year. Definitions of rare vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile of a probability density function estimated from observations. By definition, the characteristics of what is called extreme weather may vary from place to place in an absolute sense. When a pattern of extreme weather persists for some time, such as a season, it may be classed as an extreme climate event, especially if it yields an average or total that is itself extreme (e.g., drought or heavy rainfall over a season).


The overflowing of the normal confines of a stream or other body of water, or the accumulation of water over areas that are not normally submerged. Floods include river (fluvial) floods, flash floods, urban floods, pluvial floods, sewer floods, coastal floods, and glacial lake outburst floods.

Fluorinated gases

Hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride are synthetic, powerful greenhouse gases that are emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are sometimes used as substitutes for stratospheric ozone-depleting substances (e.g., chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, and halons). These gases are typically emitted in smaller quantities, but because they are potent greenhouse gases, they are sometimes referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (“High GWP gases”).

Food wastage

Food wastage encompasses food loss (the loss of food during production and transportation) and food waste (the waste of food by the consumer).

Fossil fuels

Carbon-based fuels from fossil hydrocarbon deposits, including coal, oil, and natural gas.


Greenhouse Gases = Carbon Dioxide (81%); Methane (10%) Nitrous Oxide (6%); Fluorinated Gases (3%)

Gigawatt hour (GWh)

A derived unit of energy equal to 3600 gigajoules (GJ), and expressed as power [gigawatt (GW)] multiplied by time [hour (h)].


A perennial mass of ice, and possibly firn and snow, originating on the land surface by the recrystallisation of snow and showing evidence of past or present flow. A glacier typically gains mass by accumulation of snow, and loses mass by melting and ice discharge into the sea or a lake if the glacier terminates in a body of water. Land ice masses of continental size (>50,000 km2) are referred to as ice sheets. See also Ice sheet.

Global warming

The estimated increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) averaged over a 30-year period, or the 30-year period centered on a particular year or decade, expressed relative to pre-industrial levels unless otherwise specified. For 30-year periods that span past and future years, the current multi-decadal warming trend is assumed to continue. See also Climate change.

Green infrastructure

The interconnected set of natural and constructed ecological systems, green spaces and other landscape features. It includes planted and indigenous trees, wetlands, parks, green open spaces and original grassland and woodlands, as well as possible building and street-level design interventions that incorporate vegetation. Green infrastructure provides services and functions in the same way as conventional infrastructure. This definition builds from Culwick and Bobbins (2016)31.

Greenhouse gas (GHG)

Greenhouse gases are those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of terrestrial radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere itself and by clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2)nitrous oxide (N2O)methane (CH4) and ozone (O3) are the primary GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere. Moreover, there are a number of entirely human-made GHGs in the atmosphere, such as the halocarbons and other chlorine- and bromine-containing substances, dealt with under the Montreal Protocol. Beside CO2, N2O and CH4, the Kyoto Protocol deals with the GHGs sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). See also Carbon dioxide (CO2)Methane (CH4)Nitrous oxide (N2O) and Ozone (O3).


More here

Gross domestic product (GDP)

The sum of gross value added, at purchasers’ prices, by all resident and non-resident producers in the economy, plus any taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products in a country or a geographic region for a given period, normally one year. GDP is calculated without deducting for depreciation of fabricated assets or depletion and degradation of natural resources.


Gigatons (billions of metric tons) of carbon.


Gigawatt (billion watts).


Gigawatt hour (equivalent to one million kilowatt hours).


The Holocene is the current interglacial geological epoch, the second of two epochs within the Quaternary period, the preceding being the Pleistocene. The International Commission on Stratigraphy defines the start of the Holocene at 11,650 years before 1950. See also Anthropocene.

Hydrological cycle

The cycle in which water evaporates from the oceans and the land surface, is carried over the earth in atmospheric circulation as water vapour, condenses to form clouds, precipitates as rain or snow, which on land can be intercepted by trees and vegetation, potentially accumulates as snow or ice, provides runoff on the land surface, infiltrates into soils, recharges groundwater, discharges into streams, flows out into the oceans, and ultimately evaporates again from the ocean or land surface. The various systems involved in the hydrological cycle are usually referred to as hydrological systems.


Integrated Assessment Model, a class of model that models the energy system, economy, and climate system, to incorporate feedback between the three.

Ice sheet

A mass of land ice of continental size that is sufficiently thick to cover most of the underlying bed, so that its shape is mainly determined by its dynamics (the flow of the ice as it deforms internally and/or slides at its base). An ice sheet flows outward from a high central ice plateau with a small average surface slope. The margins usually slope more steeply, and most ice is discharged through fast flowing ice streams or outlet glaciers, in some cases into the sea or into ice shelves floating on the sea. There are only two ice sheets in the modern world, one on Greenland and one on Antarctica. During glacial periods there were others. See also Glacier.

Industrial revolution

A period of rapid industrial growth with far-reaching social and economic consequences, beginning in Britain during the second half of the 18th century and spreading to Europe and later to other countries, including the United States. The invention of the steam engine was an important trigger of this development. The industrial revolution marks the beginning of a strong increase in the use of fossil fuels, initially coal, and hence emission of carbon dioxide (CO2).


Electric transmission lines that connect different regions.


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international organization mandated to provide policy makers with an objective assessment of the scientific and technical information available about climate change.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty adopted in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, at the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP3) to the UNFCCC. It contains legally binding commitments, in addition to those included in the UNFCCC. Countries included in Annex B of the Protocol (mostly OECD countries and countries with economies in transition) agreed to reduce their anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (carbon dioxide (CO2)methane (CH4)nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)) by at least 5% below 1990 levels in the first commitment period (2008–2012). The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005 and as of May 2018 had 192 Parties (191 States and the European Union). A second commitment period was agreed in December 2012 at COP18, known as the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, in which a new set of Parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels in the period from 2013 to 2020. However, as of May 2018, the Doha Amendment had not received sufficient ratifications to enter into force. See also United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Paris Agreement.

Land NET

Negative CO2 emissions as the result of the update of carbon in soils and terrestrial biomass.

Low Biomass

A scenario that limits the use of biomass for energy.

Low Electrification

A scenario with a slower rate of switching from fuel combustion technologies to electric technologies on the demand-side of the energy system.

Low Land NETs

A scenario with a lower uptake of carbon in land sinks, resulting in a more restricted emissions budget for the energy system.

Methane (CH4)

Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.


The International Organization for Migration (IOM) defines migration as ‘The movement of a person or a group of persons, either across an international border, or within a State. It is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes migration of refugees, displaced persons, economic migrants, and persons moving for other purposes, including family reunification.’ (IOM, 2018)44.

Mitigation (of climate change)

A human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.


Million metric tonnes.


A test to determine the reliability of a system by ensuring any single component of the system can fail without jeopardizing the system as a whole.

Negative emissions

Removal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere by deliberate human activities, i.e., in addition to the removal that would occur via natural carbon cycle processes. See also Net negative emissionsNet zero emissionsCarbon dioxide removal (CDR) and Greenhouse gas removal (GGR).


Negative emissions technology, one that absorbs atmospheric CO2 and sequesters it.

Net negative emissions

A situation of net negative emissions is achieved when, as result of human activities, more greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere than are emitted into it. Where multiple greenhouse gases are involved, the quantification of negative emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon). See also Negative emissionsNet zero emissions and Net zero CO2 emissions

Net zero emissions

Net zero emissions are achieved when anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. Where multiple greenhouse gases are involved, the quantification of net zero emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon). See also Net zero CO2 emissionsNegative emissions and Net negative emissions.


A condition in which human-caused carbon emissions equal the natural uptake of carbon in land, soils, and oceans such that atmospheric CO2 concentrations remain constant.

Nitrous oxide (N2O)

Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste.

No New Nuclear

A scenario that disallows new nuclear construction.

No Tech NETs

A scenario that disallows use of the specific technologies of biomass with carbon capture and geologic sequestration and direct air capture with geologic sequestration.


Northwest power pool.

Ocean acidification (OA)

Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period, typically decades or longer, which is caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, but can also be caused by other chemical additions or subtractions from the ocean. Anthropogenic ocean acidification refers to the component of pH reduction that is caused by human activity (IPCC, 2011, p. 37)46.

Ozone (O3)

Ozone, the triatomic form of oxygen (O3), is a gaseous atmospheric constituent. In the troposphere, it is created both naturally and by photochemical reactions involving gases resulting from human activities (smog). Tropospheric ozone acts as a greenhouse gas. In the stratosphere, it is created by the interaction between solar ultraviolet radiation and molecular oxygen (O2). Stratospheric ozone plays a dominant role in the stratospheric radiative balance. Its concentration is highest in the ozone layer.

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted on December 2015 in Paris, France, at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC. The agreement, adopted by 196 Parties to the UNFCCC, entered into force on 4 November 2016 and as of May 2018 had 195 Signatories and was ratified by 177 Parties. One of the goals of the Paris Agreement is ‘Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Additionally, the Agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement is intended to become fully effective in 2020. See also United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)Kyoto Protocol and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).


Ground (soil or rock and included ice and organic material) that remains at or below 0°C for at least two consecutive years.


Peta (1015) grams.


parts per million.

Radiative forcing

Radiative forcing is the change in the net, downward minus upward, radiative flux (expressed in W m-2) at the tropopause or top of atmosphere due to a change in a driver of climate change, such as a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) or the output of the Sun. The traditional radiative forcing is computed with all tropospheric properties held fixed at their unperturbed values, and after allowing for stratospheric temperatures, if perturbed, to readjust to radiative-dynamical equilibrium. Radiative forcing is called instantaneous if no change in stratospheric temperature is accounted for. The radiative forcing once rapid adjustments are accounted for is termed the effective radiative forcing. Radiative forcing is not to be confused with cloud radiative forcing, which describes an unrelated measure of the impact of clouds on the radiative flux at the top of the atmosphere.


Renewable Energy Deployment System – a capacity planning and dispatch model build by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


Planting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use. For a discussion of the term forest and related terms such as afforestation, reforestation and deforestation, see the IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (IPCC, 2000)51, information provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2013)52, the report on Definitions and Methodological Options to Inventory Emissions from Direct Human-induced Degradation of Forests and Devegetation of Other Vegetation Types (IPCC, 2003)53. See also DeforestationAfforestation.


The capacity of social, economic and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation. This definition builds from the definition used by Arctic Council (2013)54.


Three separate eGRID regions in the mid-Atlantic and extending west through Michigan.


Regional Investment and Operations Platform, an optimization tool built by Evolved Energy Research to explore electricity systems and fuels.


Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Sea ice

Ice found at the sea surface that has originated from the freezing of seawater. Sea ice may be discontinuous pieces (ice floes) moved on the ocean surface by wind and currents (pack ice), or a motionless sheet attached to the coast (land-fast ice). Sea ice concentration is the fraction of the ocean covered by ice. Sea ice less than one year old is called first-year ice. Perennial ice is sea ice that survives at least one summer. It may be subdivided into second-year ice and multi-year ice, where multi-year ice has survived at least two summers.

Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall)

Sea level can change, both globally and locally (relative sea level change) due to (1) a change in ocean volume as a result of a change in the mass of water in the ocean, (2) changes in ocean volume as a result of changes in ocean water density, (3) changes in the shape of the ocean basins and changes in the Earth’s gravitational and rotational fields, and (4) local subsidence or uplift of the land. Global mean sea level change resulting from change in the mass of the ocean is called barystatic. The amount of barystatic sea level change due to the addition or removal of a mass of water is called its sea level equivalent (SLE). Sea level changes, both globally and locally, resulting from changes in water density are called steric. Density changes induced by temperature changes only are called thermosteric, while density changes induced by salinity changes are called halosteric. Barystatic and steric sea level changes do not include the effect of changes in the shape of ocean basins induced by the change in the ocean mass and its distribution.


A reservoir (natural or human, in soil, ocean, and plants) where a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas is stored. Note that UNFCCC Article 1.8 refers to a sink as any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol or a precursor of a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere.

Social justice

Just or fair relations within society that seek to address the distribution of wealth, access to resources, opportunity, and support according to principles of justice and fairness.


eGRID region composing all of the Southeastern United States outside of Florida.


A dynamic process that guarantees the persistence of natural and human systems in an equitable manner.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The 17 global goals for development for all countries established by the United Nations through a participatory process and elaborated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including ending poverty and hunger; ensuring health and well-being, education, gender equality, clean water and energy, and decent work; building and ensuring resilient and sustainable infrastructure, cities and consumption; reducing inequalities; protecting land and water ecosystems; promoting peace, justice and partnerships; and taking urgent action on climate change.


Trillion British thermal units, an energy unit typically applied to in power generation natural gas.

Tech NET

Negative emission technologies composed of either biomass with carbon capture and sequestration or direct air capture with sequestration.

Tipping point

A level of change in system properties beyond which a system reorganizes, often abruptly, and does not return to the initial state even if the drivers of the change are abated. For the climate system, it refers to a critical threshold when global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state.


The lowest part of the atmosphere, from the surface to about 10 km in altitude at mid-latitudes (ranging from 9 km at high latitudes to 16 km in the tropics on average), where clouds and weather phenomena occur. In the troposphere, temperatures generally decrease with height.



United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC was adopted in May 1992 and opened for signature at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It entered into force in March 1994 and as of May 2018 had 197 Parties (196 States and the European Union). The Convention’s ultimate objective is the ‘stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.’ The provisions of the Convention are pursued and implemented by two treaties: the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. See also Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement.


Vehicle miles traveled.


Western electricity coordinating council.