COP 27: Breaking Down Climate Change Jargon
As the annual global climate change summit progresses, FactChecker simplifies some buzz words around it
World leaders from 193 countries are currently meeting at the largest global climate conference, the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27), at Sharm-El-Sheikh in Egypt, to discuss and plan the implementation of ambitious pledges to cut down emissions of earth-warming greenhouse gases (GHGs).
Many terms--carbon sinks, the Paris agreement, global stocktake, and more--will be bandied about. To help you make sense of it all, FactChecker spoke to climate experts to simplify 11 climate-related jargon:
COP For Implementation
Not just the primary tagline, but also the # for this year's COP.
"Around 198 country representatives want real action rather than just theoretically discussing climate change," says Abinash Mohanty, a climate change expert and a reviewer of the Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report.
Similarly, Sumit Prasad, Programme Lead at the environment think tank, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) said, "There have been a lot of high level climate-related negotiations going on for the last 30 years but now there needs to be a clear roadmap on what needs to be negotiated. This year, COP is about acting on those negotiations." Hence the COP for 'implementation'.
As many as 166 nations have submitted new and updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), including for reducing GHG emissions by 2030. Some governments have pledged to bring those emissions to net zero, [which means that either emissions are reduced or emissions are absorbed and not released into the atmosphere], Prasad explained. COP 27 "will aim to ensure that these pledges are implemented.".
India has committed to reducing its emissions intensity by 45% by 2030, from the 2005 level. It has also pledged that 50% of its installed electric power will be from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. By 2070, India aims to be a net-zero economy.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the 'Earth Summit', held in 1992, led to the development of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development [and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), explained below].
The 27 principles mentioned in the Rio Declaration outline responsibilities of states and their citizens towards the environment, and are a framework for sustainable development, according to a 2013 article by Turkey-based academic Ayça Tokuç. It is a nonbinding declaration which highlights significant concepts related to international environmental law, including compensation for the victims of pollution and liability for environmental damage.
The UNFCCC adopted the common but differentiated responsibilities framework at the 1992 Rio climate summit, IndiaSpend reported in October 2021. The framework acknowledges that richer countries have the responsibility for providing financial and technological assistance to developing and vulnerable countries to fight climate change. Further, not all countries would have similar emissions reduction targets, given that the historical responsibility of developing countries in greenhouse gas emissions is marginal compared to developed countries.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
The UNFCCC is an agreement that came into effect in 1994. Its ultimate goal is to stabilise GHG emissions at a level that prevents dangerous human interference with the climate system, which can have [and is having] devastating impacts on earth. The 198 nations who ratified the agreement are referred to as Parties to the Convention.
After the UNFCCC came The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, which has 192 signatories. This protocol puts the UNFCCC into action by committing 37 industrialised nations and the European Union to limit and reduce GHG emissions by an average 5% emission reduction compared to 1990 levels over the five year period 2008–2012.
The Doha Amendment, which extended and amended the Kyoto protocol, in December 2012 includes 37 countries [different from the first list] that committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels in the eight-year period from 2013 to 2020.
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty, adopted as part of COP 21 in December 2015, to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5-2°C by 2030. It came into force in November 2016. Currently, it has 194 signatories.
The agreement solidified long-term, international goals to tackle the climate crisis, including increasing adaptation and resilience to climate change, and aligning financial flows with low-carbon and sustainable development. But details on implementing this global pact were left unclear, IndiaSpend had reported in October 2021.
Global stocktake or GST will be a five-yearly assessment of the parties that signed the Paris Agreement in 2015. The first review is due in 2023 and will focus on each country's efforts in mitigating climate change events, adaptation to irreversible climate change, financing loss and damage from climate change-induced extreme events, and financing, explained Mohanty.
Funds for climate change action, known as Climate Finance, support adapting to the adverse effects of climate change, and mitigation to reduce GHG emissions and other contributors of climate change, through large-scale investments. The UNFCCC has also established a mechanism to provide financial resources to developing countries to make the flow of Climate Finance easier.
Developed countries, such as the US, should take a lead in mobilising climate finance, the UNFCCC says, as these countries are responsible for historical emissions. Even today, they have higher per capita GHG emissions compared to developing countries such as India.
Decarbonisation refers to the process of decreasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions generated as output in a country's economy. There are two aspects to decarbonisation. The first is to prevent the release of CO2 into the atmosphere by reducing dependence on fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, etc) and turning toward zero-carbon renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydropower and biomass energy. The second is focussing on CO2 removal (CDR) technologies to absorb and eliminate CO2 already present in the atmosphere, since this residual CO2 can affect the climate for hundreds to thousands of years.
A carbon sink is a natural environmental body that absorbs more carbon emissions from the atmosphere than it releases. Carbon sinks include oceans, forest cover, trees, etc.
India committed in 2015 to creating additional carbon sinks that can hold 2.5-3 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent (metric used to compare emissions from other GHG gases to CO2) by 2030, IndiaSpend reported in November 2021. This is to be achieved by adding to India's forest and tree cover.
Carbon Markets and Credits
If a company has reduced its carbon emissions to 100 tonnes from 150, the company can then trade these 50 carbon credits or Certified Emissions Reduction (CER) credits, each of which allow the holder to emit 1 ton, with other companies that have overshot their carbon emissions budget.
For instance, from 2002 to 2012, Indian companies and the government together had earned hundreds of crores worth of carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol by reducing industrial emissions, switching to renewable energy, energy efficiency in households and protecting forests, and sold some of them as credits to countries or companies that were likely to exceed their emission targets, IndiaSpend reported in October 2021.
Further, assigning monetary value to carbon could potentially create responsibility within polluting companies for emissions that were previously unaccounted, FactChecker reported in June 2022.
Loss and Damage
"Loss and Damage from the climate negotiations purview refer to the harsher and grimmer impacts of climate change that are unavoidable either through adaptation or mitigation," said Mohanty.
According to the sixth assessment of climate impacts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), loss and damage can be broadly categorised into two groups: the first is economic losses which involves income and physical assets, and the other is non-economic loss, which includes mortality, mobility and mental wellbeing losses, but is not limited to these aspects.
(Read IndiaSpend's story on how farmers in Maharashtra are dealing with climate-change induced loss and damage.)
At COP26, India agreed to phase-down coal use and shift to clean sources of energy. This should happen through a 'just transition', which would ensure energy for a developing country and protect its workforce employed in fossil-fuel related industries, as it moves to renewable sources of energy, IndiaSpend reported in November 2022.
At COP27, India and G7 Countries which includes the US, the UK and Germany, are likely to sign a partnership to reduce dependency on coal and finance the rapid deployment of clean energy in India.