Oh FFS: A guide to climate change acronyms

Your jargon-busting climate glossary.

The COP25 climate summit is being held at the IFEMA congress centre in Madrid until 13 December 2019.
The COP25 climate summit is being held at the IFEMA congress centre in Madrid until 13 December 2019. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP)

The aid sector loves its acronyms. Stir in some climate science and the political language of global treaty negotiations, and you have the recipe for a (rapidly warming) cauldron of alphabet soup.

Here’s a guide to some of the tongue-twisting abbreviations, acronyms, and initialisms that help make climate change language a little more brief, though not exactly concise.

AOSIS: The Alliance of Small Island States. A grouping of coastal and island nations that are some of the most vulnerable to sea level rise and other climate change impacts. Primarily comprising so-called Small Island Developing States (SIDS), these countries (as well as other regional blocs) have been at the forefront of a push to put financing and support for disaster loss and damages on the climate change agenda.

CO2: Carbon dioxide. Along with methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and other gases, carbon dioxide is one of the key components of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) responsible for climate change. Almost everyone agrees CO2 and other emissions must be reduced, but they don’t always agree on how to go about doing it. Extractive industries want to capture it, some jurisdictions are taxing it, and some countries want to pay others to reduce theirs then take credit for the work.

COP: The Conference of the Parties that have signed on to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The convention is the 1992 treaty, now signed by 197 countries, where nations agreed to the “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” – in other words, they pledged to tackle human-caused climate change. The COP has convened every year beginning in 1995. The current summit, COP25, was scheduled to be in Chile but was shifted to Madrid because of unrelated mass protests. COP21 in France gave us the Paris Agreement, while its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, was adopted during COP3 in Japan in December 1997.

CVF: A relatively new group formed a decade ago, the Climate Vulnerable Forum is a high-level “cooperation platform” linking heads of state and government from countries most affected by climate change. The current chair is Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, which earlier this year declared a “climate crisis”. Its capital, Majuro, was inundated with unusually high tides as the COP25 summit began. An offshoot of the CVF, the aptly named V20 (Vulnerable 20 Group) brings together economic ministers to push for climate financing with a common voice.

FFS: Fossil fuel subsidies. Climate advocates want governments to axe billions in subsidies to fossil fuel industries, and instead divert the cash to climate financing.

GCF: Created during COP16 in Mexico, the Green Climate Fund holds the purse strings for funding to help developing nations reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Donors pledged a $9.7 billion top-up to the GCF in October; analysts say far more is needed. There’s currently $15 billion worth of proposals in the pipeline (and another $20 billion in projects on deck).

IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the expert body that sifts through, appraises, and compiles the rapidly expanding trove of scientific research into a mammoth compendium outlining what we know about climate change. Its authoritative “assessment reports” are published every few years: the current fifth assessment report (AR5) was released in 2014 and the sixth (AR6) is due around 2022. To whet the appetite, the IPCC serves up morsel-sized “special reports” on specific topics. Last year, the SR15 report contrasted the impacts of a 1.5-degree warmer world and a 2-degree one – helping to galvanise the current push to limit temperature rise to 1.5.

NDC: Nationally Determined Contributions spell out each country’s actions to reduce emissions and adapt to a warming world. In other words, the NDCs are national gameplans to fight climate change. Those promises haven’t worked particularly well so far, with global temperature rise projected to hit 3.2 degrees even with the current (unmet) pledges. Next year is a crucial one for the NDCs (and therefore for climate action more broadly): Countries are expected to submit new, stronger NDCs every five years under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

UNEP: The UN Environment Programme publishes a yearly “emissions gap” report – a scorecard showing how the world is doing on its greenhouse-gas reduction targets. What’s the ruling? “We are failing,” the most recent report declares.

WIM: The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts. Created during COP19 in Poland, this is the COP body discussing the thorny subject of paying for disaster damages. Climate loss and damage (occasionally abbreviated as L&D) is one of the most divisive issues at the summits. Wealthier countries have resisted any sort of compensation for climate-linked disasters. But vulnerable countries say it’s increasingly clear that mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation (reducing disaster risks) won’t be enough. Climate advocates believe the current COP25 is a rare window of opportunity for loss and damage financing.

WMO: The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation. It assists national and regional meteorological bodies with research and helps to set standards on tracking extreme weather and climate. It also studies climate trends: the WMO recently concluded that greenhouse gas concentrations hit a record high last year, and that the last decade will likely be the warmest ever.

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