COP21 Guide to Acronyms
Confused about the many acronyms associated with the COP21 climate negotiations?
This page is a glossary of acronyms (and a couple of key terms) commonly used in current climate negotiations. Each acronym is defined, explained and contextualised. This is to assist any newcomer to climate negotiations to follow the discussions with some understanding of the subtext that accompanies the vernacular.
For a complete list of acronyms see here.
Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action
Because negotiations happen on various issues and levels, they are often divided into streams, workgroups or bodies. The ADP is one such negotiating division. As opposed to the permanent bodies of the UNFCCC (for example the SBSTA and SBI; see below for definitions), an Ad Hoc group is temporary and must be established through a COP decision. The decision outlines a specific mandate including a work programme and timeframe for specific outcomes and decisions. The mandate is often extended through further COP decisions.
The ADP was established at the Durban COP in 2011. Its mandate is to reach an agreement before the end of 2015 on the form and content of a global mechanism to be implemented by 2020. To this end, the ADP consists of two workstreams:
Workstream 1 develops the negotiating text of this 2015 agreement. Negotiations on this text are based on the elements of mitigation (emissions reduction), adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, transparency and capacity-building.
Workstream 2 focuses exclusively on pre-2020 mitigation and means by which to increase the global collective level of emissions reduction ambition.
The UNFCCC refers to two categories of countries: Annex I and Annex II. By extension, there is a third grouping referred to as non-Annex I:
Countries included in Annex I of the UNFCCC are those industrialised countries that were members of the OECD in 1992 plus countries with economies in transition (including the Russian Federation, the Baltic States, and several Central and Eastern European States).
Countries included in Annex II UNFCCC are Annex I countries excluding the economies in transition countries.
Non-Annex 1 countries are all countries not included in Annex I or II and are mostly developing countries.
The classification has particular relevance in relation to expectations for emissions reduction, to the direction of finance and technology transfer, and to capacity-building requirements.
Annex A is an annex to the Kyoto Protocol. It provides a list of what the Kyoto Protocol regulates in terms of greenhouse gases and the sectors or sources that emit these gases. Six gases are listed: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Five broad categories of sources are listed: energy; industrial processes; solvent and other product use; agriculture and waste. Under the broad categories the Annex provides further details as to the actual the sources of emissions that are covered. Annex A does not list sources of emissions related to LULUCF.
Annex B is an annex to the Kyoto Protocol. It lists those Annex I countries that adopted emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Any country on that list can be referred to as an Annex B country. The list of such countries is here.
Alliance Of Small Island States
Although each Party has its own voice under the UNFCCC, countries have historically come together in negotiating groups and often speak as one bloc on certain issues. One such grouping is the AOSIS. This bloc has close to 40 member states, all of which are listed here. Members are not obliged to agree on all issues and sometimes choose not to stand with the majority.
AR4 and AR5
Fourth Assessment Report and Fifth Assessment Report
Every 5 or 6 years the IPCC publishes in three volumes a comprehensive report on the science of climate change, likely impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation. These reports are known as Assessment Reports, the first of which was published in 1990. AR4 and AR5 were published in 2007 and 2013/14 respectively.
Brazil, South Africa, India, China
The BASIC group is a negotiating bloc consisting of four countries with comparable situations in terms of economics and industrial development. The BASIC countries came together for the first time in 2009 for climate talks in Copenhagen.
Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (and Respective Capabilities)
The CBDR principle is a key element of the UNFCCC. It underpins the concept that although developed countries are responsible for the bulk of historical greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts of climate change will be distributed globally and developing countries are likely to be the most vulnerable to these impacts. As such, countries must act together in responding to climate change, but they must do so in ways that are appropriate to their levels of responsibilities and capabilities, and developed countries must take the lead. Parties to the UNFCCC have agreed that:
The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.
Clean Development Mechanism
The CDM is an instrument of the Kyoto Protocol. It allows developed countries to undertake emissions reduction projects in developing countries and to retain the resultant carbon credits towards meeting pledged targets. During the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (from 2008 to 2012) the CDM was an important mechanism in providing flexibility to countries in meeting emissions reduction targets. However, due to a multitude of reasons (including a meagre membership to the Kyoto Protocol in its second commitment period and the decline in the price of carbon credits) demand for CDM credits has dwindled. Despite efforts to revive the scheme, some suggest that the CDM might be nearing expiration.
Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol
The CMP is a subset of the COP in that only countries that are Party to the Kyoto Protocol are officially represented. Other COP countries can participate and engage in the negotiations but only as observers. The CMP’s scope is limited to issues related to the Kyoto Protocol.
Carbon dioxide equivalent
Two expressions exist: CO2-e concentration and CO2-e emission. These have different meanings. The CO2-e concentration is the concentration of carbon dioxide that would cause the same radiative forcing as a given mixture of carbon dioxide and other forcing components (these could be other long-lived greenhouse gases or greenhouse gases and aerosols). The CO2-e emission is the amount of carbon dioxide emission that would cause the same integrated radiative forcing (over a given time horizon) as an emitted amount of a greenhouse gas or a mixture of greenhouse gases.
Conference of the Parties
The COP is the decision-making body of the UNFCCC. Every country that is a Party to the UNFCCC is represented at the COP. Negotiations can cover anything and everything under the scope of the UNFCCC, but in practice they follow a formal agenda that is determined through decisions of the COP. The UNFCCC operate under consensus decision-making, which means that any Party can block a decision; although in reality it takes more than one small state to do this. The COP currently meets annually. The next COP will be COP21 in Paris.
El Niño Southern Oscillation
The ENSO is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon affecting sea-surface temperature in the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean and rainfall and temperature variations across the Pacific and surrounding land regions. Although there are many other factors to consider, generally, the effect of this variation is either an El Niño phase, a La Niña phase or a neutral phase. During an El Niño phase, South American waters are relatively warm and surface air pressure differences can be measured between the coast of Darwin and that of Tahiti. For Australia this usually results in hot and dry conditions (ideal for bushfires) from June to November. During a La Niña phase, conditions in Australia are generally cooler and wetter (ideal for floods) usually between October and March.
FAR (or AR1)
First Assessment Report
Every 5 or 6 years the IPCC publishes in three volumes a comprehensive report on the science of climate change, likely impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation. These reports are known as Assessment Reports. The FAR was published in 1990.
Group of 77
Although each Party has its own voice under the UNFCCC, countries have historically come together in groupings and often speak as one bloc on certain issues. One such grouping is the G-77 group of developing countries. The formation of this bloc, in 1964, precedes climate negotiations. Although the group once counted 77 countries, it now has 134 members and is the largest negotiating bloc of climate talks. Member countries are listed here. Although China is officially a member of the G-77, in climate negotiations China’s views do not always align with those of the G-77. When they do, the bloc is known as ‘G-77 and China’.
Green Climate Fund
The GCF is a finance mechanism of the UNFCCC. It was established to support climate adaptation and mitigation activities in developing countries. After discussions over several meetings, the GCF was established in 2012. The 24 GCF board members stem from developed and developing countries. They meet periodically with facilitation provided by the GCF secretariat housed in South Korea. Funding for the GCF is to come primarily from developed countries, although there is some ongoing work on the inclusion of a Private Sector Facility to supplement public funds with private investment. The World Bank serves as its interim trustee for the GCF, which remains an independent body.
Global Environment Facility
The GEF serves as a financial mechanism for several international environmental agreements including the UNFCCC. Collaborating with global institutions, civil society and the private sector, the GEF supports turning developing country projects with national benefits into projects with global environmental benefits in terms of ‘biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, and chemicals and waste’. Although it is an independent organisation, The GEF (like the GCF) allows the World Bank to serve as its trustee and to provide administrative services.
Global Warming Potential
Not all greenhouse gases contribute to warming the atmosphere in the same way. GWPs allow all these greenhouse gases to be compared on the same basis. The GWP of a greenhouse gas is how much one kilogram of that gas warms the atmosphere compared with one kilogram of carbon dioxide. This is measured over a specified time period, typically 100 years. By using the GWPs, all greenhouse gases can be aggregated into one metric known as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). The GWP represents the combined effect of the differing times these gases remain in the atmosphere and their relative effectiveness in absorbing infrared radiation.
HFCs are greenhouse gases made up of carbon, hydrogen and fluorine. They are synthetic molecules generally used in fridges and air conditioner, and they have very high GWPs.
Local Governments for Sustainability (formerly the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives)
Founded in 1990 by 200 local governments from 43 countries ICLEI is now a network of more than a thousand cities and towns impacting over 20% of the global urban population. It helps its members ‘make their cities sustainable, low-carbon, resilient, biodiverse, resource-efficient, healthy and happy, with a green economy and smart infrastructure’. ICLEI has observer status at the UNFCCC. Members are shown here.
International Energy Agency
The IEA is an intergovernmental group that sits within the OECD framework and is funded by the 29 IEA member countries (listed here). The IEA provides statistics, analysis and recommendations in relation to energy security and environmental concerns related to energy sectors. IEA has observer status at the UNFCCC.
Intended Nationally Determined Contribution
Under the UNFCCC process in the lead-up to COP21 in Paris, Parties have agreed to submit proposals of what their contribution to climate action post-2020 might be. These proposals are known as INDCs. The shape, form and content of these proposals are open to interpretation. However, it is hoped that developed countries will include measurable, reportable and verifiable emissions reduction goals at the very minimum. Developing countries have called on developed countries to also include in their INDCs information on the level of climate finance they intend to disburse and any planned efforts towards technology transfer and capacity building. These elements are considered indispensable for developing countries in determining their own INDCs. INDCs will be evaluated collectively to determine the aggregate effect, with a view to increasing national efforts should this be required. INDCs as they are submitted can be found here.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Established in 1988 by the WMO and UNEP, the IPCC is an intergovernmental scientific body that brings together experts from all countries to produce research in support of the UNFCCC’s mandate. This involves drawing together findings from published (generally peer-reviewed) literature. Although all reports produced by the IPCC are drafted by academics and are scientific and technical in nature, the Summary for Policymakers reports are approved at the governmental level. All material in IPCC reports is required to be policy relevant but policy neutral.
The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the UNFCCC. It is named after the Japanese city at which it was agreed, during COP 3 in 1997. It came into force in 2005. The Kyoto Protocol defines emissions reduction targets for those developed countries that are parties to it. Through flexibility mechanisms attached to it (such as the CDM, and emissions trading) the Kyoto Protocol allows developed countries to meet some of their obligations by undertaking emissions reduction projects in foreign countries or by trading credits amongst each other. The first commitment period of the Protocol started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period started in 2013 and will end in 2020. Fewer developed countries signed onto the second period than the first. As a result, the effect of the second commitment period on global emissions is unlikely to be significant. Australia only ratified the Protocol in 2007 and is a Party to the second commitment period. The United States has refused to ratify the Protocol.
Least Developed Country
Although each Party has its own voice under the UNFCCC, countries have historically come together in groupings and often speak as one bloc on certain issues. One such grouping is the LDCs. Technically a country is classified as an LDC if it meets certain criteria related to gross national income, levels of health and education and the vulnerability of its economy to shocks. The LDC bloc has nearly 50 member states, all of which are listed here. Members are not obliged to agree on all issues and sometimes choose not to stand with the majority.
Loss and Damage
In UNFCCC negotiations, the term Loss and Damage refers to those impacts of climate change (both economic and non-economic, environmental and human) that are unavoidable despite actions to reduce or adapt to climatic changes. This encompasses impacts from sudden climatic events, such as cyclones, as well as impacts from slower changes, such as ocean acidification. In 2013 at COP19 in Poland, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage was established. However the mechanism remains a focus for dispute between developing and some developed countries (notably the United States). The scale and extent of Loss and Damage experienced in the future will depend primarily on the level of emissions reduction that is achieved.
Land-Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry
Changes to the way land is used can result in greenhouse gas emissions. This is because different vegetation can hold carbon in different forms and quantities. When the vegetation on a piece of land is altered, the volume of greenhouse gases emitted or absorbed by that piece of land is also altered. For accounting purposes under the Kyoto Protocol, rules and definitions were determined to distinguish between man-made changes in land-use emissions and natural variations. The term LULUCF was originally created to refer to land-based activities included in the Kyoto Protocol. However, it is now used more broadly outside the UNFCCC to refer to any human activities that alter the way land is used and thus the volume of greenhouse gas emissions from that land.
Millennium Development Goal
Under a United Nations initiative, in 2000 the world agreed to eight goals, referred to as the MDGs. These eight goals are ‘to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability; and to develop a global partnership for development’. Global potential to meet the MDGs may be affected by climate change impacts and by actions taken to deal with climate change.
Measurable, Reportable and Verifiable
Targeting transparency and trust in UNFCCC processes, the term and concept of MRV is used to highlight the importance of being able to track and review actions and outcomes. At the most basic level MRV refers to the requirements that Parties provide, in line with their abilities to do so, annual accounts of their greenhouse gas emissions. However, taking a broader perspective, the MRV concept can also be applied to finance commitments, technology support, and emissions reduction actions not just outcomes.
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action
In contrast to developed countries, which are expected to set quantifiable emissions reduction targets, developing countries can undertake NAMAs. These voluntary measures can include any developing country actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of a national governmental initiative. The list of NAMA proposals submitted to date is here. Financial assistance for published NAMAs is to be provided by developed countries.
National Adaptation Plan of Action
LDCs prepare NAPAs to outline climate change adaptation priorities for their country. The list of submitted NAPAs is here. Having submitted a NAPA, an LDC can apply for funding from a specific Least Developed Country Fund.
A number of NGOs (these are not-for-profit organisations that do not form part of any government; although they can receive government funding) provide input into the UNFCCC process. A list of NGOs that have observer status in the UNFCCC is here.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
The OECD is an organisation of developed countries committed to a market economy. Its mission is to ‘promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world’. It provides policy recommendations and analysis to influence UNFCCC decision-making. The OECD has observer status at the UNFCCC.
Countries that participate in the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol are referred to as Parties rather than countries. This is important for example in relation to the European Union, which is a Party to the UNFCCC and has 28 Member States, each of which is also a Party to the UNFCCC.
Quantified Emissions Limitation and Reduction Commitment (or Objective)
Under the Kyoto Protocol QELROs were proposed as a way of expressing developed countries’ emissions reduction targets in terms of annual emissions allowances, in percentages relative to a 1990 base year.
Radiative forcing is the change in the net radiative flux (expressed in watts per square metre) at the top of atmosphere due to a change in an external driver of climate change. Such a change could be caused by, for example, a change in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide or a change in the output of the Sun.
Representative Concentration Pathway
RCPs are plausible future scenarios for atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols. They have been developed to assist the work of the IPCC and are reported in AR5. The scenarios are used by climate modellers and other scientists to identify and communicate the potential impacts and outcomes from various levels of on-going greenhouse gases emissions. Four RCPs have been proposed:
RCP2.6 (also known as RCP3PD) is a scenario of relatively low levels of greenhouse gas emissions into the future. Emissions peak before 2020 and then decline. It assumes that by 2070 there will be effective use of methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Under this scenario there is a 50% chance of global average temperature increases staying below 2C.
RCP4.5 is a scenario in which emissions peak by 2040 and then decline. Under this scenario, increases in global average temperatures are unlikely to remain below 2C.
RCP6.0 is a scenario in which emissions increase until 2080 and then start to decline. Under this scenario, there is a 50% chance of keeping increases in global average temperatures below 4C.
RCP8.5 is a scenario of continued and increased emissions until around 2100. A less than 50% chance of keeping temperature increases to within 4C exists under this scenario.
The number following RCP refers to the radiative forcing in2100, which is a way to express the amount of the sun’s energy impacting the Earth. Radiative forcing is affected by the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation; forest conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks
REDD was initially introduced into UNFCCC negotiations in 2005 as a framework within which developing countries could receive compensation for reducing forest loss (and thus their emissions of greenhouse gases). REDD became REDD+ when additional activities of forest conservation, management and enhancement (reforestation) were added. The majority of REDD+ methodological and financing decisions were completed in 2013, with Parties agreeing that REDD+ is voluntary for developing countries to engage in, and can be financed through funding mechanisms such as the GCF, or via carbon markets. Integration of REDD+ into carbon markets would make REDD+ an offset mechanism, with the emission reductions credited to the entity purchasing the credits. However, as yet there is no carbon market for forest credits.
Second Assessment Report
Every 5 or 6 years the IPCC publishes in three volumes a comprehensive report on the science of climate change, likely impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. These reports are known as Assessment Reports, the first of which was published in 1990. The SAR was published in 2001.
Subsidiary Body for Implementation
Two permanent advisory bodies—siting within the remit of the UNFCCC—support the work of the COP and of the CMP. These are the SBI and SBSTA. The SBI assesses and reviews the implementation of measures or agreements made under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and provides advice on ‘budgetary and administrative matters’.
Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice
Two permanent advisory bodies—siting within the remit of the UNFCCC—support the work of the COP and of the CMP. These are the SBI and SBSTA. The SBSTA acts as a bridge between the science and the policy, providing and translating for the UNFCCC ‘information and advice on scientific and technological matters as they relate to the Convention or its Kyoto Protocol’.
Small Island Developing States
Although each Party has its own voice under the UNFCCC, countries have historically come together in groupings and often speak as one bloc on certain issues. One such grouping is SIDS. There are more than 40 SIDS, most of which are also members of other negotiating groups such as the AOSIS, LDCs and the G77. A list of SIDS members is here. Members are not obliged to agree on all issues and sometimes choose not to stand with the majority.
Third Assessment Report
Every 5 or 6 years the IPCC publishes in three volumes a comprehensive report on the science of climate change, likely impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. These reports are known as Assessment Reports, the first of which was published in 1990. The TAR was published in 2001.
Although each Party has its own voice the UNFCCC, countries have historically come together in groupings and often speak as one bloc on certain issues. The Umbrella Group is one such grouping. It brings together non-European developed countries and usually includes Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the United States. Australia is the permanent Chair of the Umbrella Group.
United Nations Environment Program
Formed in 1972, the UNEP is a United Nations agency that coordinates environmental activities nationally and globally. It has a special focus of assisting developing countries to implement environmental development projects. With the WMO, the UNEP established the IPCC in 1988. In the 1990s, the UNEP supported the creation of the UNFCCC, and continues to support the goals of the UNFCCC through efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to assist with the development and implementation of NAPAs.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The UNFCCC is the international treaty that brings together 195 countries with the objective of managing the global challenge of climate change. As a framework Convention, the UNFCCC lays the foundations for global climate negotiations and any subsequent action. The UNFCCC was agreed in 1992 as part of the United Nations Rio Earth Summit and entered into force in 1994. According to the text of the UNFCCC, the primary objective of the treaty (as described in Article 2) is to achieve
…stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
It decrees that this should be achieved
…within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
The goals of the UNFCCC are implemented with the help of the UNFCCC Secretariat, a body of administrative staff based in Bonn, Germany.
World Meteorological Organisation
The WMO is a United Nations agency that reports on the ‘state and behaviour of the Earth's atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources’. The WMO supports the UNFCCC’s activities through scientific and technical advice and WMO representatives participate in the COPs in an advisory capacity.