Climate and environment glossary – E

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Earth Overshoot Day: marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

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ecocide: crimes against nature, the definition of which is now recognised by the International Criminal Court.

ecoforestry (eco-forestry): a way to manage forests that prioritises sustainability rather than any financial returns. Some of the principles include looking at the entire ecosystem, protecting rare species, respecting the structure and natural make-up of the forest, encouraging regeneration, avoiding negative impacts on soil quality and limiting pesticide use.

ecofriendly (eco-friendly): an adjective used to describe something that does no harm to the environment or which may even bring a benefit to nature. It can be something produced or created, or a lifestyle choice. Other similar terms include ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’. There is no international standard for measuring ecofriendliness, so decision-makers should check details when comparing products or services that use this term.

ecolinguistics: defined by the International Ecolinguistics Association as a discipline that explores the role of language in the life-sustaining interactions of humans, other species and the physical environment.

ecological anxiety/eco-anxiety: ‘a chronic fear of environmental doom’ as described by the American Psychiatric Association in 2017. Medical and psychiatric experts have started to gather research that suggests there is increasing public anxiety about the climate emergency and that people are feeling overwhelmed by the existential threat posed by the crisis.

Further reading:

ecological footprint: how much land and water is needed to produce the resources used, and to absorb the waste produced, by an individual or a group (eg a business). See also carbon footprint.

ecological grief/ecogrief: a painful psychological response to the scale and speed of loss of biodiversity and other aspects of natural and human-made environmental breakdown. See also ecological anxiety/eco-anxiety.

ecopsychology (eco-psychology): a term coined in the 1960s that describes the psychology of humans and animals in relation to their natural environment. It was later used to study and expand the emotional connection between humans, the Earth and all sentient beings, with policymakers, healthcare providers and employers becoming increasingly aware of the great benefits of nature to human health.

ecosystems: a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.


ecosystem services: the various benefits that humans gain from a certain ecosystem. The term is often used in relation to land management and forestry. Ecosystem services include products such as food and water; regulation of floods, soil erosion and disease outbreaks; and non-material benefits such as the recreational and health benefits of natural areas.

ecotax: a tax levied on activities considered harmful to the environment, to prevent environmental harm and promote environmental benefit via economic incentives.

ecotherapy: therapeutic care that centres on the idea that nature has healing powers and can strengthen people’s mental resilience and wellbeing. It takes inspiration from the medical practices and traditions of indigenous populations. Practitioners may also use mindfulness techniques, alternative therapies or other activities such as yoga and tai chi.

effect: the outcomes for humans and biodiversity resulting from an environmental impact, such as loss of habitat and species from deforestation, higher global temperatures resulting from GHG emissions, or instances of asthma in humans due to pollution. Often incorrectly used interchangeably with impact. See impact.

electric vehicle (EV): a vehicle that runs on electricity rather than petrol or diesel fuel. It uses as a fuel source batteries that can be recharged at charging points.

electrification: the transition of power supplies away from direct burning of fossil fuels, including changes to systems and equipment that are currently powered directly by fossil fuels. The term is mainly in relation to transport, such as the electrification of buses, cars and delivery vehicles, but could also refer to the transition of gas-powered equipment to use electricity.

embodied energy: the total amount of energy used – directly and indirectly – in creating any item (from a paperclip to a passenger aircraft). Embodied energy (sometimes called embodied carbon) includes the energy used to transport the components (including packaging) and materials as well as the items themselves, from source to user. This measurement can be used to enable people to compare a wide range of products and choose those with lower embodied energy, such as building materials (concrete vs timber) or food products (eg tomatoes from England or Spain). See also carbon footprint.

emissions trading: a system whereby limits are set on the maximum amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by specific industry sectors in participating countries. Organisations that operate installations (eg gas-fired power stations) can trade permits, acquiring more if they exceed their allocation or selling surplus ones where their emissions are below that allocation. The limit on available permits creates a market for emissions permits.

environmental/climate refugee: someone forced from their home due to environmental conditions such as sea-level rise, usually as part of a group of people. The term applies to refugees fleeing sudden climatic extremes by moving across geographical borders, as well as to those moving within their own country/region.  Disasters in 2020 triggered more than three-quarters (30.7 million) of the new internal displacements recorded worldwide (source: Terms such as ‘climate change refugee’ or ‘environmental refugee’ have no legal basis in international refugee law, and there is also a growing consensus among concerned agencies, including International Organization for Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that their use is to be avoided.


environmentally sustainable: something designed to continue at the same rate or level of activity without any problems. However, the term ‘sustainable’ can be applied to a wide range of systems or activities, such as an organisation or a business/industry (ie it simply has the capacity to keep trading/operating) or the national economy (where it means non-inflationary). Therefore it is important to include the adverb ‘environmentally’ to emphasise the nature-related dimension over the purely economic. See sustainable development.

environmental management system (EMS): a well-established method for an organisation to first gain and then maintain control over its numerous environmental impacts.

environmental migrant: someone who is obliged to move from their home, land or local area – either temporarily or permanently – as a result of a sudden or longer-term climatic change, extreme weather events, lack of food, or conflict caused by food or water shortages, in search of a safer place to live and work. The UN Environmental Migration Portal notes that the term does not have an accepted legal definition, and that it is necessarily broad so that it encompasses a wide range of reasons for the movement of people.


environmental stewardship: an organisation, business or individual taking responsibility for its impacts on the local and global environment. This can include responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices to enhance ecosystem resilience and human wellbeing.