The Climate Dictionary


The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released this 92-page Climate Dictionary on August 8, 2023. It provides simple and concise definitions for 40 climate-related terms frequently in use.

Subtitled ‘Speak climate fluently’, the publication aims to “bridge the gap between complex scientific jargon and the general public” and make crucial information on climate change easier to access.

The following are 13 of the 40 terms and their (excerpted) explanations which remain especially relevant to the present times:

Blue economy: The "blue economy" concept seeks to promote economic development, social inclusion, and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas.

Blue economy has diverse components, including established traditional ocean industries such as fisheries, tourism, and maritime transport, but also new and emerging activities, such as offshore renewable energy, aquaculture, seabed extractive activities, and marine biotechnology.

Carbon removal vs. Carbon capture: Carbon removal is the process of removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, through natural solutions such as reforestation and soil management or technological solutions like direct air capture and enhanced mineralization.

Carbon capture and storage is the process of trapping carbon emissions produced by fossil fuel power plants or other industrial processes before they can enter our atmosphere by storing them deep underground.

Carbon markets: Carbon markets are trading schemes that create financial incentives for activities that reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions. In these schemes, emissions are quantified into carbon credits that can be bought and sold. One tradable carbon credit equals one tonne of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent amount of a different greenhouse gas reduced, sequestered or avoided.

Circular economy: Circular economy refers to models of production and consumption that minimize waste and reduce pollution, promote sustainable uses of natural resources, and help regenerate nature.

Climate finance: Climate finance refers to financial resources and instruments that are used to support act on climate change […] Climate finance can come from different sources, public or private, national or international, bilateral or multilateral. It can employ different instruments such as grants and donations, green bonds, debt swaps, guarantees, and concessional loans. And it can be used for different activities, including mitigation, adaptation and resilience building.

Climate overshoot: Under the Paris Agreement, countries are expected to take the necessary measures to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. But even best-case scenarios now indicate a significant chance of overshooting these goals, even if temporarily. Climate overshoot refers to the period during which warming will have increased past 1.5° C, before falling back down […] 

The longer the climate overshoot lasts, the more dangerous the world will become.

Feedback loop: Climate feedback loops happen when one change in the climate triggers further changes, in a chain reaction that reinforces itself as time goes on […]

For example, as sea ice in the arctic melts, more heat is being absorbed by the darker oceans waters, this speeding up the warming process and leading to more ice melting. Similarly, as wildfires burn down forests, they release greenhouse gases leading to more warming and more wildfires.

Greenwashing: Greenwashing refers to situations where a company makes misleading claims about their positive environmental impact or the sustainability of their products and services to convince consumers that they are acting on climate change.

Indigenous knowledge: Indigenous Peoples were among the first to notice climate change and their knowledge and practices help navigate and adapt to its impacts. Indigenous knowledge, which is intergenerational and community-based, is a great source of meaningful climate solutions that can advance mitigation, enhance adaptation, and build resilience. It can also complement scientific data with precise landscape information that is critical to evaluating climate change scenarios.

Nationally Determined Contributions: Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are climate pledges and action plans that each country is required to develop in line with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° C […]

NDCs outline mitigation and adaptation priorities a country will pursue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, build resilience, and adapt to climate change, as well as financing strategies and monitoring and verification approaches.

Net zero: Reaching net zero requires us to ensure that carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are balanced by human efforts to remove carbon dioxide emissions […] thereby stopping further increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

[…] The IPCC has recommended to reduce CO2 emissions globally by 45% before 2030 (compared to 2010 levels) and reach net zero by mid-century.

Rewilding: Rewilding is the mass restoration of ecosystems that have been damaged by human activity. More than conservation, which focuses on saving specific species through dedicated human intervention, rewilding refers to setting aside large areas for the natural world to regenerate on its own terms. This sometimes requires the reintroduction of key species that have been driven extinct in a particular region.

Tipping point: A tipping point is a threshold after which certain changes caused by global warming and climate change become irreversible, even if future interventions are successful in driving down average global temperatures.

Focus by Swadesha Sharma.


United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New York


08 Aug, 2023