Nature and Climate Change Glossary
For many, the terms “nature-based solutions” and “natural climate solutions” are interchangeable. At Nature4Climate, we use natural climate solutions (NCS) when referring to solutions that apply specifically to climate mitigation, but include biodiversity and human safeguards, and nature-based solutions (NbS) when emphasizing solutions to the broader conservation and societal challenges we face, such as climate adaptation, clean water security, soil health, ecosystem integrity and biodiversity loss.
There have been criticisms that those advocating for NCS have focused solely on the carbon benefits of these actions, at the disadvantage of biodiversity and local communities. However, the original NCS global pathways science paper did take care to define NCS as “constrained by food security, fiber security, and biodiversity conservation.” In other words, NCS by definition needs to feed the world’s growing population (and supply fiber), while also doing no harm to biodiversity.
N4C uses both terms, and the distinction we propose between the two is primarily one of emphasis. Those who use “NCS” choose to place emphasis on the benefits such actions have in mitigating the impacts of climate change, while those who use “NbS” place emphasis on any part of the broad range of benefits that such actions also have for adaption, human well-being and biodiversity.
Afforestation is the act of establishing a forest in an area not previously forested, helping to alleviate the pressure on natural forests by acting as an alternative source of woodland. Where reforestation will enhance the number of trees in a forest, afforestation will effectively create a whole new one.
Avoided deforestation projects aim to protect native forests in areas that would otherwise be cleared, reducing the levels of greenhouse gas entering the atmosphere as the carbon remains stored in the trees.
Benefits or co-benefits are the added benefits arising from acts to control climate change, other than the direct benefits like a stable climate. These benefits can include improved air quality or cleaner technology.
Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems. Biodiversity is richest in the tropics and includes diversity within species, between species, and between ecosystems.
Biodiversity offsets are actions or activities intended to compensate for residual losses in biodiversity, in addition to prevention and mitigation measures already implemented. They aim to achieve no net losses or net gains of biodiversity and are seen as measures of last resort. For example, when a developer removes mangroves to build a new beach resort, that developer would be responsible for planting an equal or greater number of mangroves elsewhere.
Carbon markets are trading systems through which countries may buy or sell units of greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to meet their national limits on emissions, either under the Kyoto Protocol or under other agreements, such as that among member states of the European Union¹².
Carbon sequestration is the removal and storage of carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks through geological or biological processes, it slows or reverses atmospheric carbon pollution and mitigates global warming. The carbon capture allows the use of fossil fuels whilst reducing CO2 emissions.
Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions through compensating carbon emissions with carbon offsetting until they are equal. Under the Paris agreement, the EU committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Carbon offsets are actions or activities intended to compensate for the emission of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases elsewhere into the atmosphere due to industrial or human activity. They can be bought, sold or traded in carbon markets. If the offsets equal the total carbon footprint of an action, that action becomes carbon neutral.
Climate change mitigation refers to efforts to reduce or prevent emission of greenhouse gases. Mitigation can mean using new technologies and renewable energies, making older equipment more energy efficient, natural carbon sequestration, orchanging management practices or consumer behaviour. It can be as complex as a plan for a new city, or as a simple as improvements to a cook stove design³. Climate change mitigation acts to limit global warming and remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Climate-smart agriculture refers to agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, reduces/removes greenhouse gases where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals ⁵.
Disaster risk reduction is a systematic approach to identifying, assessing and reducing the risks of disaster. It aims to reduce socio-economic vulnerabilities to disaster as well as dealing with the environmental and other hazards that trigger them. Examples include implementing infrastructure building codes appropriate to existing and future disasters, measures to divert floodwater, using drought-resilient crops or increasing water storage capacity in order to maintain water supply in times of drought.
Divestment is the process of selling assets of investments to maximise the value of a parent company, it is the opposite of an investment. Firms make divest to acquire funds, enhance stability or eliminate an underperforming division.
Ecosystem-based adaption is the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. Examples include rangeland restoration to bolster the water supply to local communities and livestock during droughts; agroforestry to protect crops negatively affected by extreme temperatures; and mangrove restoration to protect coastal communities from sea-level rise.
Ecosystem services are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human wellbeing. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth ⁹.
Environmental standards are administrative regulations, set by a government, in place for the maintenance and protection of the environment, including emission standards that set maximum amounts of pollutants allowed to be produced. They often prohibit environment-harming activities or enforce requirements of permits for the use of land.
Green bonds are bonds that raise capital for climate-related projects which deliver environmental benefits and aim for a more sustainable economy, most are verified by a third-party like the Climate Bond Standard Board to certify the project will bring benefits to the environment. To encourage the support of climate-related environmental projects, green bonds often come with tax incentives like tax credit or exemption to make them more attractive compared to taxable bonds.
Green economy is a term used to describe a low carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive economy. It should improve human wellbeing and social equity whilst significantly reducing environmental risks, the growth in employment and income comes from investment into economic activities and infrastructure that allow reduced emissions and prevent the loss of biodiversity.
Green financial products are sustainable financial arrangements that are created to provide buyers and sellers with the same financial opportunities whilst minimizing their environmental impacts. Green financial products include energy-efficient mortgages, “green” credit cards and eco-savings deposits.
Green growth describes economic growth that ensures natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services to society. It is used globally to provide an alternative concept to typical industrial economic growth and is intended to lead to a green economy ¹⁰.
Jurisdiction refers to national or subnational government areas such as states, provinces, or districts. They function as strategic levels of governance within which political administrative units address greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change. In the context NCS, the “jurisdictional approach” refers to a comprehensive approach to forest and land use across one or more legally defined territories at the national or subnational level, with involvement of the jurisdiction’s government. Crucially, carbon accounting is done at the level of the jurisdiction (at either national or subnational scales), and the government body with the power to enforce forest and/or land use policies is responsible for oversight of the forest carbon stock contained within the jurisdiction.
The Kyoto Protocol operationalizes the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialized countries to limit and reduce greenhouse gases emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets. The Convention itself only asks those countries to adopt policies and measures on mitigation and to report periodically. It only binds developed countries and places a heavier burden on them under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities”, because it recognizes that they are largely responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere ¹³.
Natural climate solutions are conservation, restoration and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions in landscapes and wetlands across the globe, while also addressing other societal and biodiversity challenges.
Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible. The most obvious ecosystem services include the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines. There are also many less visible ecosystem services such as the climate regulation and natural flood defences provided by forests, the billions of tonnes of carbon stored by peatlands, or the pollination of crops by insects.
Natural capital assets are a distinctive component or grouping of natural capital components, including soils, freshwater and species. Natural capital assets typically come in systems, rather than discrete atomised components, limiting the scope for conventional economic analysis. Natural capital assets provide ecosystem services such as pollination and water purification, which support the production of goods and services, and generate benefits⁸.
Natural capital stock is defined as the size and condition of a natural resource. For example, the total number of salmon that can be harvested would be a measure of extent; and a measure of condition could be the size of adult fish.
Natural carbon sinks are systems that absorb and store more carbon dioxide (CO2) than they release, reducing CO2 concentration in the air. The main natural carbon sinks are soil, trees and other plants and the ocean. As deforestation and global warming increase, these sinks may be weakened and reduced.
Natural forest regrowth is an ecological process in which natural regeneration will take place on unused crop fields and pastures that had replaced native forests, the woodlands are restocked by trees that develop from seeds that fall and germinate on site.
Nature-based or green infrastructure intentionally and strategically preserves, enhances, or restores elements of a natural system, such as forests, agricultural land, floodplains, riparian areas, coastal forests (such as mangroves), among others, or creates natural systems to provide infrastructure (for example, wastewater treatment). Natural infrastructure can function on its own or be used as complementary to “grey” infrastructure.
Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits¹.
Nature-positive is a term referring to an economy where governments fundamentally transform their socioeconomic systems representing a third of global economic output and up to two-thirds of all jobs to prevent further biodiversity loss. Those systems encompass food, land and ocean use, infrastructure and the built environment, and energy and extractives ¹³.
Net-zero refers to achieving a balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere via such activities as carbon offsets. It allows the production of emissions as long as they are offset by reducing the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere.
Official development assistance (ODA) is government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries. Loans and credits for military purposes are excluded. Aid may be provided bilaterally, from donor to recipient, or channelled through a multilateral development agency such as the United Nations or the World Bank¹¹.
REDD+ stands for ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conservation of existing forest carbon stocks, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. It is a proven United Nations initiative created to reduce emissions from deforestation by financially incentivising developing countries to keep their forests ⁷.
Reforestation is the process of restoring and replanting forest areas that have been depleted, usually through deforestation. It can be used to rectify the effects of deforestation or improve the quality of human life by soaking up pollution and dust from the air, rebuilding natural habitats and ecosystems, mitigating global warming ⁴.
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health. It is a method of farming that avoids depleting the resources it uses and tries to improve them ⁶.
Restoration is the action of returning something to its previous condition. It can be applied to ecology as the attempts to return ecosystems that have been destroyed by human activity to their more natural, original state.
Soil carbon is a carbon sink and the largest carbon pool in the terrestrial ecosystem, it is present in two forms: organic and inorganic. Soil organic carbon is the carbon component of organic compounds. Soil inorganic carbon consists of mineral forms of carbon often found in arid areas.
Supply chains are networks between suppliers and companies with the purpose of producing and distributing a specific product to the customer, the chain will include transforming the raw materials into finished products and then distributing them to the buyers as well as marketing and customer service. They reduce companies costs and speed up the production cycle.
Voluntary carbon markets allow governments, non-governmental organizations, investors and businesses to voluntarily purchase carbon offsets to offset their emissions, different to those under the Kyoto protocol, functioning outside of the compliance markets and allowing companies or individuals to buy or sell units of greenhouse gas emissions on a voluntary basis.
¹IUCN. 2020. Nature-based solutions. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.iucn.org/commissions/commission-ecosystem-management/our-work/nature-based-solutions
² WWF. 2020. Nature-based solutions. [ONLINE] Available at: https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/our_focus/climate_and_energy_practice/what_we_do/nature_based_solutions_for_climate/
³ UN environmental programme. 2020. Mitigation. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/climate-change/what-we-do/mitigation
⁴ Gillis, Justin. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: “In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide”
⁵ IntechOpen. 2017. Climate Smart Agriculture: An Option for Changing Climatic Situation. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.intechopen.com/books/plant-engineering/climate-smart-agriculture-an-option-for-changing-climatic-situation
⁶ The Climate Reality Project. 2019. What is Regenerative Agriculture. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/what-regenerative-agriculture
⁷ UN-REDD PROGRAMME. 2020. ABOUT REDD+. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.unredd.net/about/what-is-redd-plus.html
⁸ GOV.UK. 2017. NCC. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/natural-capital-committee
⁹ Green Facts. 2020. Ecosystem Services. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.greenfacts.org/glossary/def/ecosystem-services.htm
¹⁰ OECD. 2011. What is Green Growth. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.oecd.org/general/whatisgreengrowthandhowcanithelpdeliversustainabledevelopment.htm
¹¹ OECD. 2020. Official Development Assistance. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/development/net-oda/indicator/english_33346549-en?parentId=http%3A%2F%2Finstance.metastore.ingenta.com%2Fcontent%2Fthematicgrouping%2F5136f9ba-en
¹² Europa.eu. 2011. Climate Change. [ONLINE] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/sites/clima/files/docs/terms_en.pdf
¹³ UNFCCC. 2020. The Kyoto Protocol. [ONLINE] Available at: https://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol
¹⁴ Aljazeera. 2020. AJ Impact/Climate Change. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/wef-sees-101-trillion-windfall-nature-positive-economy-200714183903978.html