Climate and environment glossary – C–D

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carbon calculator: a program or app that calculates the approximate amount of carbon dioxide produced by a person, household, business or organisation, etc.

carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS): also known as ‘carbon capture and storage’, this refers to extracting the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted during the process of generating power from fossil fuels, then storing it deep underground under compression. The aim is to reduce the amount of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. See also sequestration.

carbon footprint: a calculation of the quantity of greenhouse gases (measured as carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent) released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity. It is theoretically possible to calculate the carbon footprint of the world, a country, a community, a business, an individual, an event, a product, etc. Such calculations are also used as the basis for carbon offsetting. However, it can be very challenging to capture all the necessary information for such calculations. See embodied energy.

carbonisation/decarbonisation: the conversion of an organic substance into carbon or a carbon-containing residue through pyrolysis or destructive distillation. Carbonisation produces substances that can prove harmful if emitted and have a high carbon monoxide content. Decarbonisation means the reduction of the amount of carbon in the economy with the ultimate aim of eliminating it in modern life.

carbon neutral: a closed-cycle process that emits and absorbs equal amounts of greenhouse gas (measured in carbon dioxide equivalent). See also net zero emissions.

carbon tax: a fee imposed on businesses and organisations that burn carbon-based fuels (coal, gas, oil). Carbon taxes are seen as a way of reducing emissions by making it more expensive for businesses to use carbon-based fuels, with the aim of encouraging them to be more energy efficient.

circular economy: a system based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution by keeping materials and products in use and regenerating natural systems. A circular economy is one that exchanges the typical cycle of make, use, dispose in favour of as much reuse and recycling as possible.

climate crisis/climate emergency: terms commonly used to emphasise the urgent need to reduce the amount of human-induced (anthropogenic) climate change, which was identified by scientists in the second half of the 1800s. It was pinpointed as a matter for international concern in the mid 1960s, and acknowledged by global governments at the first United Nations environment conference in 1972. By 1990 global temperatures had risen by 0.3°–0.6°C since the 1890s and they have continued to rise. Although national and international efforts to curb global warming have increased, scientists and governments warn that the pace of change has not been sufficient, and must be quickly increased to prevent devastating global impacts (eg droughts, famine, storms, floods, melting icecaps).

climate denier/climate science denier: someone who entirely dismisses the existence of the climate crisis. See also climate sceptic.

climate disinformation: false online information that companies or entities spread about the climate crisis in order to target the climate policy agenda and confuse or mislead the public.

Further reading:

climate justice: a term used to acknowledge the political, ethical and social aspects of the climate crisis. It connects the dots between the environmental crisis and inequality, human rights and gender rights issues, and the concept of economic social justice. It emphasises that those most affected by climatic extremes are often those least responsible for them and spotlights the historical responsibility of wealthy nations for the bulk of carbon emissions.

climate sceptic/climate science sceptic: someone who does not believe or accept the scientific evidence on climate change, often not wishing to engage in debate or have their views challenged. Most recently, individuals or online entities have been associating the climate crisis with conspiracy theories and actively spreading disinformation/misinformation on the issues. Most broadsheet newspapers now use the term climate denier for someone who entirely dismisses the existence of the climate crisis.

COP: acronym used to refer to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, sometimes known as the ‘Conference of the Parties’. This is the periodic meeting of all the countries that are Parties (ie signatories) to the Convention (also known as the UNFCCC). This COP is the ultimate governing body for coordinated global action on climate change. Its first meeting was in Berlin in 1995; COP 26 was held in Glasgow in 2021. Other UN organisations also have COPs, also related to the environment, such as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

coral bleaching: this occurs when coral loses its vibrant colour and turns white. Coral is bright and colourful because of microscopic algae that live in the coral. However, when the ocean environment changes (eg if it gets too hot) the coral becomes stressed and expels the algae living in its tissues, causing it to turn white. When a coral bleaches it is not dead, but if the stress is prolonged, bleached corals begin to starve and will eventually die if the stress is not relieved.


deforestation: the decrease in forest areas caused by humans converting the land to other purposes, such as agricultural croplands, urbanisation or mining activities. Eighty per cent of world deforestation is the result of agricultural practices such as the production of beef, soy, palm oil and rubber. As well as loss of trees, deforestation leads to biodiversity loss and the decline of wildlife populations, freshwater depletion and greenhouse gas emissions. Together agriculture and forestry account for 24 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.


desertification: the process by which land becomes drier and degraded over time due to climate change and/or human activities.

downcycling: converting materials into something that has less economic value than the original materials. For example, old clothes can be downcycled into the materials needed for industrial carpeting.

Source: BBC