What is a COP? Which is correct, REDD or REDD+? What is the difference between CDM and JI? And what’s with all of those acronyms, anyway?

If you have ever read climate policy, you have found yourself wading through a pool of acronyms and technical policy jargon. While our articles and reports aim to make the news and policy easier to understand, the language used by policymakers in the climate change arena can make this quest problematic and, at times, prohibitive.

To better understand the policy, what it means, and how it relates to you and your topic of interest, we have developed a glossary of commonly used climate policy terms and acronyms to help you along your way.

Get started by selecting a letter for a glossary term from the list below, view a list of acronyms, or download a full list for printing.

Printable Glossary | Printable Acronyms


Assigned amount unit (AAU): A unit equal to 1 metric tonne of CO2 equivalent. Each Annex I Party to the Kyoto Protocol issues AAUs up to a determined assigned amount level. AAUs may be exchanged through emissions trading.

Adaptation: The adjustment in response to actual or anticipated climatic change or impacts by way of moderating harm or exploiting favorable opportunities.

Adaptation Fund: Established under the Kyoto Protocol, the Adaptation Fund provides funding for developing countries to implement adaptation projects and programs in order to help them adapt to climate change. A share of the Fund’s financing comes from proceeds from clean development mechanism (CDM) project activities as well as from other sources.

Ad hoc Working Group on further commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP): Established by Parties to the Protocol in 2005 in Montreal for the purpose of considering additional commitments of industrialized countries under the Kyoto Protocol for the period beyond 2012. The AWG-KP was set to complete their work in Copenhagen in 2009 but have moved this date to 2011 in Durban, South Africa.

Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA): Established in 2007 in Bali for the purpose of conducting negotiations on a strengthened international deal on climate change. Negotiations to establish such a deal were set to conclude in Copenhagen in 2009 but have thus far been unable to reach an agreement. The agreement is anticipated to be reached in 2011 in Durban, South Africa.

Afforestation: Planting forests in areas that have not historically contained forests.

Annex I Parties: Industrialized countries which committed by way of the Convention (in Annex I to the Convention for which they are aptly referred) to return their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000 and accepted emission targets for the years 2008-2012 by way of signing and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol (with the exception of the United States who signed but did not ratify the Protocol). Annex I countries include the 24 original OECD members, the European Union, and the economies in transition.

Annex II Parties: Countries listed in Annex II to the Convention that hold an additional obligation to provide financial resources as well as facilitate technology transfer to developing countries. Annex II countries include the 24 original OECD members as well as the European Union.

Anthropogenic greenhouse emissions: Emissions of greenhouse gases which are a result of human activities.

Bali Action Plan (BAP): Part of the Bali Roadmap, adopted in 2007 at COP13 in Bali, the Bali Action Plan (BAP) outlines the path for developing a new negotiating process to tackle climate change by addressing five building blocks: adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, financial resources, and a shared vision for long-term cooperative action. In addition, the BAP recognizes a need to reduce emissions from deforestation and land degradation (see: REDD+) and establishes the Ad hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperation Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA).

Bali Road Map: Adopted in 2007 at COP13 in Bali, the Bali Road Map consists of several forward-looking decisions including, amongst other things, the Bali Action Plan (BAP), the establishment of the Adaptation Fund, and decisions on technology transfer and on reducing emissions from deforestation.

Biochar: A charcoal created from the thermal decomposition (pyrolysis) of biomass. Differing from standard charcoal that is used for fuel, the primary purpose for biochar is for atmospheric carbon capture and storage or sequestration. Put simply: biochar can be used as a tool to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels by drawing carbon from the soil or atmosphere and storing it in the ground.

Biomass, biofuels, bioenergy: Biofuel is fuel produced from biological material, otherwise known as biomass.  This includes dry organic matter or combustible oils produced by plants such as: corn converted into ethanol (to substitute for gas/petrol), combustible oil from palm or soy beans (as a substitute for diesel), or woodchips for power generation (as a substitute for coal). If maintained and replanted, biofuels are considered a renewable energy source, or bioenergy, as it is a renewable energy source created from biological material.

Capacity building: The process of developing technical skills and institutional capability in developing countries and economies in transition so that they may effectively address the causes and effects of climate change.

Carbon budget: A set amount of CO2 that can be emitted by a country, globally, or from a set of activities over a given amount of time.

Carbon intensity: A measure of how much carbon a country or economy emits for every dollar of GDP or unit of product produced.

Carbon market: One of three Kyoto mechanisms in which an Annex I Party may transfer emission reduction units (ERUs) to or from another Annex I Party, subject to eligibility requirements. The other two Kyoto mechanisms are considered project-based mechanisms: Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI).  See also “Carbon Market”. See also “Emissions Trading”.

Carbon trading (cap and trade): A system in which countries, companies, or others trade rights to emit CO2. For example, “cap and trade” is a system where emissions are capped through the limitation of emission permits. Emitters are given or sold a limited amount of permits which they then may trade or sell amongst themselves in accordance with their needs.

Carbon capture and storage/ Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS): The process of capturing CO2 from large sources, such as from a fossil fuel power plant, and storing it so that it does not enter the atmosphere. CO2 capturing from the air is also possible, in which case scrubbing would be needed. Carbon storage is envisaged in deep geological formations underground. Uncertainty over potential leakage and the impact of CCS on the costs of power have led for some debate over the likelihood of wide-scale adoption of CCS as a tool for mitigating climate change.

Carbon sink: A natural source that can absorb and store CO2 from the air, such as grasslands, forests, and oceans.

Carbon source: A natural source that releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Forests, soils, and oceans are considered both sinks and sources at different times.

Certified emission reductions (CER): A Kyoto Protocol unit equal to 1 metric tonne of CO2 equivalent issued for emission reductions from CDM project activities. Temporary certified emission reductions (tCERs) and long-term certified emission reductions (lCERs) are special types of CERs that are issued for emission removals from afforestation and reforestation project activities.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM): One of two project-based mechanisms (the other being Joint Implementation) under the Kyoto Protocol. This mechanism allows for developed countries to finance greenhouse gas emission reduction projects in developing countries in exchange for credits which they can then apply towards (“offset”) their own set emission limits or can trade in the carbon market.

CO2 equivalent: A term used to describe the global warming potential of greenhouse gases in terms of the equivalent amount of CO2.

Common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities: A principle adopted in the Rio Declaration at the 1992 Earth Summit describing the different responsibilities of countries taking into account their relative capacities to act (such as wealth, health, and education). This principle is used in terms of the Kyoto Protocol to recognize the shared responsibility all countries hold to control greenhouse gas emissions, although only some countries have specific targets.

Conference of the Parties (COP): The supreme body of the Convention. It currently meets once a year to review the Convention’s progress. See UNFCCC.

Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (COP/MOP or CMP): The Conference of the Parties (COP) refers to the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) whereas the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) refers to Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. When the Conference of the Parties serves as the meeting of the Parties, this is then known as the COP/MOP or CMP. The sessions of the COP and COP/MOP are held during the same period in order to reduce costs and streamline the management of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol processes.

Contact group: An open-ended meeting wherein Parties may negotiate before forwarding agreed text to a plenary for formal adoption. This meeting may be established by the COP, a subsidiary body or a Committee of the Whole. Observers may attend contact group sessions.

Countries with Economies in Transition (EIT): Countries whose economies are transitioning from state-controlled to market economies such as the former Soviet Union and Communist bloc countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

Designated National Authority (DNA): An office, ministry, or other official entity appointed by a Party to the Kyoto Protocol to review and give national approval to projects proposed under the Clean Development Mechanism.

Drafting group: A small group who convenes privately to prepare draft text for later approval in a plenary session. This group is established by the President or a Convention body Chair. Observers are not allowed to attend drafting group sessions.

Emission reduction unit (ERU): A Kyoto Protocol unit equal to 1 metric tonne of CO2 equivalent.  ERUs are generated for emission reductions or removals from joint implementation project activities.

Emissions trading: One of three Kyoto mechanisms in which an Annex I Party may transfer emission reduction units (ERUs) to or from another Annex I Party, subject to eligibility requirements. The other two Kyoto mechanisms are considered project-based mechanisms: Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation (JI).  See also “Carbon Market”.

Entry into force: The point at which an intergovernmental agreement becomes legally binding.  This occurs after an established time interval following a prerequisite number of country ratifications. In the instance of the Climate Change Convention, 50 ratifications were required for it to enter into force, beyond which point a new Party may be added following 90 days after that Party has ratified the Convention.

Financial Mechanism: A mechanism established by the Convention to provide funds to developing country Parties to assist in their implementation of the Convention. Financial resources are provided by developed country Parties (Annex II), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) is assigned operation (subject to review every four years), and the financial mechanism is accountable to the COP.

Fossil fuel: Fuel made of fossilized carbon such as coal, oil, natural gal, and bitumen in tar sands.

Global warming potential (GWP): A measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse effect: The warming of the atmosphere due to an increase in heat-trapping gases (greenhouse gases).

Greenhouse gas (GHG): Any gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. The Kyoto Protocol identifies six main human-induced greenhouse gases for emission reduction by industrialized countries:  carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Global Environment Facility (GEF): An independent financial organization that provides grants to developing countries and economies in transition for projects that benefit the global environment and promote sustainable livelihoods. The GEF serves as the financial mechanism for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The financial mechanism is accountable to the COP and subject to review every four years.

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Informal contact group: A group of delegates who meet privately to discuss a specific matter in order to reach a compromise and produce an agreed proposal, often taking the form of written text, at the instruction of the President or Chair.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Established by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988, and independent of the Convention, the IPCC produces assessment reports that are widely recognized as the most credible sources of information on climate change. The assessment reports go through extremely detailed reviews by experts and governments before publication. The IPCC has produced four major assessments so far, with the latest published in 2007.

Joint implementation (JI): One of two project-based mechanisms (the other being the Clean Development Mechanism or “CDM”) under the Kyoto Protocol. This mechanism allows for developed countries to finance greenhouse gas emission reduction projects in another developed country (likely to be a country with an “economy in transition”) in exchange for credits. These credits are called “emission reduction units” or “ERU”s and can be applied towards a country’s own set emission limits or can be traded in the carbon market. Special eligibility requirements must be met for an Annex I Party to participate in joint implementation.

Kyoto Protocol:An international agreement that sets binding targets for the reduction of six main greenhouse gases by industrialized countries and establishes mechanisms to help countries achieve these targets (see Kyoto mechanisms). The Kyoto Protocol was agreed to in 1997 and has since been ratified by all developed nations, with the exception of the United States. The first commitment period of the Protocol covers the years 2008-2012. Negotiations are underway to determine an international framework following the conclusion of this commitment period.

Kyoto mechanisms: Three procedures under the Kyoto Protocol established to increase flexibility and reduce costs of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The three mechanisms include: emissions trading, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and Joint Implementation (JI).

Land use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF):A greenhouse gas inventory sector covering greenhouse gas emissions and removals that are a result of human-induced land use, land-use change and forestry activities.

Leakage: When a portion of country emission or deforestation reductions do not result in global reductions as such activities have actually shifted from one country to another. For example, a company may move factories to a different country in order to avoid emission restrictions, causing lower emissions in one country while causing higher emissions in another.

Least Developed Countries (LDCs): The World’s poorest countries, as determined based upon low income, economic vulnerability, and human resource weakness. Currently 50 countries hold the LDC title as designated by the UN General Assembly.

Least Developed Country Fund (LDCF): A fund developed to support Least Developed Countries to carry out preparation and implementation of national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs). The fund is operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Marrakesh Accords: Agreements achieved at COP7 outlining rules for operating the complex provisions of the Kyoto Protocol such as: implementing and monitoring the Clean Development Mechanism, details on how to establish an emission trading system, and the establishment and operation of three funds to support climate change adaptation efforts.

Mitigation: Human intervention to reduce greenhouse gas sources or increase carbon sinks.

Measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV): Parameters under which mitigation actions by Parties should be undertaken. MRV is also known as “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” as referenced in the Bali Action Plan, adopted at the UN climate conference in Bali in 2007.

National adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs): Documents developed by least developed countries (LDCs) identifying their urgent climate change adaptation needs which are presented to donors to help generate support.

National communication: A document submitted by a Party in which it informs other Parties of the activities they have undertaken to address climate change, in accordance with the Convention and Protocol.

National delegation: One or more officials empowered to represent and negotiate on behalf of a government.

Non-Annex I Parties: Countries that have ratified or acceded to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that are not included in Annex I of the Convention.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs): Organizations not part of a governmental structure. NGOs may include environmental groups, research institutions, business groups, and urban or local governmental associations. NGOs that wish to attend meetings under the Convention as observers must be non-profit.

Non-Party: A state that has not ratified the Convention but attends meetings as an observer.

Observers: Governments not Parties to the Convention, agencies, and non-governmental organizations that are permitted to attend, but not vote, at meetings of the COP and its subsidiary bodies.

Party: A state (or in the case of the European Union, a regional economic integration organization) that agrees to be bound by a treaty and for which such treaty has entered into force.

Per capita emissions: Country emissions divided by the number of inhabitants of that country.

Photovoltaics: A method in which solar energy is converted directly into electricity by way of solar panels.

Plenary: A formal meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) or one of its subsidiary bodies during which formal decisions or conclusions may be adopted.

Protocol: An international agreement that is separate and additional to an existing convention and requires signature and ratification by the respective convention Parties. Such Protocols typically add new or more detailed commitments as a way to strengthen the convention.

Quantified Emissions Limitation and Reduction Commitments (QELROs): Legally binding targets and timetables, as set forth under the Kyoto Protocol, for the reduction or limitation of greenhouse-gas emission by developed countries.

Ratification: Formal approval of a convention, protocol, or treaty by a Parliament, Congress, or other national legislature after a country has signed an agreement. This enables a country to become a Party following a countdown of 90 days from the submission of the instrument of ratification to the UN Secretary-General (in the case of the Climate Change Convention).

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+): A system for protecting forests as “carbon sinks” in developing countries through carbon credits or other incentives.Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries was first considered during COP11 in Montreal and later included within the Bali Action Plan (BAP). The original Bali agreement simply called for reducing emissions from deforestation (RED) and then progressed to include land degradation (REDD). REDD has since grown to include conservation, sustainable forest management, and forest carbon stock enhancement (REDD+).

Reforestation: Replanting of forests in areas where forests were previously contained by that had been converted for some other use.

Regional groups: Alliances of countries, often within the same geographic region, which meet separately for the purpose of discussing issues or nominating officials for activities under the Convention. There are five regional groups: Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), as well as the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG).

Renewable energy: Energy generated by natural forces that cannot be depleted, such as wind and solar energy.

Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF): A fund established under the Convention to finance projects related to: adaptation, agriculture, capacity building, economic diversification, energy, industry, forestry, technology transfer, transportation, and waste management. It is operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the financial mechanism of the Convention.

“Spill-over effects”: Reverberations in developing countries that are caused by efforts in developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Subsidiary body: A committee that assists the Conference of the Parties. The Convention created two permanent subsidiary bodies: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation.

Square brackets: A term that refers to the symbols [ — ] that are placed around text under negotiation in order to indicate that the enclosed language is being discussed but has not yet been agreed upon.

Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI): A subsidiary body to the Convention that reviews how the Convention (see UNFCCC) is being applied, making recommendations on policy and implementation issues to the COP (see Conference of Parties) along with other bodies upon request. In addition, the SBI handles financial and administrative matters. The SBI convenes twice a year.

Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA): A subsidiary body to the Convention that serves as a link between information and assessments provided by expert sources (such as the IPCC) and the Conference of the Parties (COP), counseling the COP on matters of technology, method, climate, and the environment. The SBSTA convenes twice a year.

Sustainable development: Development that meets present needs without compromising the ability to meet future needs.

Technology transfer: The transfer among stakeholders of knowledge, experience and/or equipment for the purpose of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Tipping point: A point of no return, after which point change is sudden and irreversible such as runaway global warming, the collapse of an ice sheet, or an ocean current which shuts down.

Track-one JI: One of two approaches under joint implementation (JI) for verifying emission reductions or removals. Under track-one, a host Party must meet all of the established JI eligibility requirements otherwise verification can only be considered under the track-two JI procedure.

Track- two JI: One of two approaches under joint implementation (JI) for verifying emission reductions or removals. Under track-two, each project is required to be reviewed by an independent entity accredited by the Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee (JISC). Track-two is used if either one or both of the countries involved do not meet the requirements for the standard track-one joint implementation program.

Umbrella group: A loose coalition consisting of developed countries outside of the European Union which was formed following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. This group usually includes Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.

UNFCCC – UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: An agreement signed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit that commits its parties to stabilize emissions linked to climate change as well as prevent “dangerous human interference with the climate”. 192 nations ratified the agreement and meet every year (see Conference of the Parties (COP) for more information).

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AAUs: Assigned Amount Units

AIJ: Activities Implemented Jointly

AFB: Adaptation Fund Board

AOSIS: Alliance of Small Island States

AP6: Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate

AWG-KP: Ad-hoc Working Group on further commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol

AWG-LCA: Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention

BAP: Bali Action Plan

CAN: Climate Action Network

CCS: Carbon Capture and Storage/Sequestration

CDM: Clean Development Mechanism

CER: Certified Emission Reduction

COP: The Conference of Parties

CMP: The Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol

CTCN: Climate Technology Centre and Network

DOE: Designated Operational Entity

EITs: Economies in Transition

EGTT: Expert Group on Technology Transfer

ENGO: Environmental Non-Governmental Organisations

EOR: Enhanced Oil Recovery

ERU: Emission Reduction Unit

GCF: Green Climate Fund

GDP: Gross Domestic Product

GEF: Global Environment Facility

GHG: Greenhouse Gas

GNP: Gross National Product

GWP: Global Warming Potential

IETA: International Emissions Trading Association

IGOs: Intergovernmental Organizations

IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

IPRs: Intellectual Property Rights

JI: Joint Implementation

JISC: Joint Implementation Supervisory Committee

LDCs: Least Developed Countries

LDCF: Least Developed Countries Fund

LULUCF: Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry

NAMAs: Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions

NAPAs: National Adaptation Programmes of Action

NGO: Non-Governmental Organization

NIEs: National Implementing Entities

ODA: Overseas Development Aid

QELROs: Quantified Emission Limitation and Reduction Objectives

REDD: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation

RES: Renewable Energy Sources

RELs: Reference Emission Levels

SBSTA: The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice

SBI: Subsidiary Body for Implementation

SD: Sustainable Development

SIDs: Small Island Developing States

TEC: Technology Executive Committee

UNFCCC: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

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