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Oh FFS: A guide to climate change acronyms

Your jargon-busting climate glossary.

word cloud of acronyms

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 clear.

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. At the COP27 summit in Egypt, AOSIS countries are proposing a new “loss and damage response fund” that could collect and distribute disaster recovery financing. 

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 198 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 first COP convened in 1995. The current summit, COP27, is the first to be held on the African continent since 2016’s COP22 in Morocco. 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 in 2009, 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 Ghana. 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. They estimate that climate change has destroyed one fifth of their countries’ wealth since 2000.

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. Fossil fuel subsidy reform (FFSR) is the push from some countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to phase out subsidies. The Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform (FFFsR) is a group of 10 nations with a similar message. Vanuatu in September 2022 became the first national government to sign on to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, or FFNPT (so has The Vatican, BTW). The civil society campaign behind the treaty, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, has so far resisted the temptation to abbreviate. 

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. The GCF says its total project portfolio is $11.3 billion, of which $2.8 billion has been disbursed. Analysts say far more is needed, and far quicker: The annual cost of adapting to the climate crisis in developing countries could reach $340 billion in a few years, estimates suggest.

G77 + China: Political summits and treaty negotiations are always bloc parties, and COP27 is no different. There are more than a dozen officially recognised negotiating groups, including AOSIS. A few others: the African Group (of Negotiators), AILAC (the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean), ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, started by Venezuela and Cuba), the LMDC (Like-minded Developing Countries), the humbly named but weighty BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China), and an obscure grouping of fluctuating size calling itself the European Union. The sprawling and now inaccurately named Group of 77 (member count: 134) made early waves at COP27. With flood-besieged Pakistan at its helm, the G77 + China insisted that loss and damage financing be on the summit’s menu.

ICJ: The International Court of Justice has rarely been on the climate radar, but that may soon change. Vanuatu wants to bring the climate emergency to the UN’s top court in The Hague by asking for legal advice, known as an advisory opinion, clarifying state responsibility for acting on climate change. A decision in Vanuatu’s favour could set a legal precedent applicable in any court – a powerful lever for the growing number of plaintiffs using legal means to try and hold big polluters and countries to account.

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 cycle is the sixth assessment report (AR6). Sections released in 2022 examined climate impacts and vulnerability (AR6 WGII), and progress on reducing climate change (AR6 WGIII). To whet the appetite, the IPCC serves up morsel-sized “special reports” on specific topics. In 2018, 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. A punchier version combining all the AR6 and special reports (AR6 SYR) is expected to be ready by early 2023. It’s supposed to be written in a “non-technical style”.

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 at least 2.5 degrees even with the current (unmet) pledges. Tallies in 2022 show slight improvements on limiting emissions, but levels are still expected to jump by 10.6% by 2030 over 2010 baselines (the previous year’s predictions pegged emissions rise at 13.7%).

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? There is “no credible pathway” to 1.5 degrees, the most recent report warned, short of “an urgent system-wide transformation”. A separate “adaptation gap” report found that adaptation costs – the price tag for societies to prepare for and lessen the risks of a warmer world – are up to 10 times more than what’s in the existing finance pipeline.

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 long 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) are not enough. At COP26, countries could only agree on a multi-year consultation process, the Glasgow Dialogue. But the issue has taken on new urgency at COP27 as humanitarian emergencies accelerate. Proponents are increasingly framing loss and damage as a matter of reparations and climate justice, and wealthy countries accused of blocking progress in the past seem (marginally) more willing to talk terms

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 new record highs in 2021, and they continue to rise. 

This climate glossary has been revised and updated for COP27. It was first published during COP25 in December 2019. 

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