COP26: A short guide to the key words and phrases

2 min to readEsg
It's perhaps not surprising that a conference combining science and politics should have a lot of jargon, but this can make it difficult to follow what's being discussed. Here's our guide to some of the most important words and phrases.
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While the goal is to cut emissions significantly in the coming years, some global warming has already happened and it has had impacts that can't be easily fixed. Adaptation (or resilience as it also known) looks at ways to adapt to the consequences of climate change. For example, we may need to change all kinds of infrastructure to cope with higher temperatures - such as developing roads that don't melt in the heat.

Carbon offsetting

Taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in one place can counteract emissions somewhere else. In theory, this means you could limit the effects of your emissions by supporting projects that remove carbon dioxide from the air, such as planting trees or preserving forests. However, it's proving controversial in practice.


The 26th Conference of the Parties. It's where the signatories to the UNFCCC meet up to make plans, set targets and discuss progress.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is responsible for analysing research into climate change and making recommendations.


While this word can be used in several way, when you're talking about COP26, mitigation means cutting emissions.

NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions)

The amount that each country committed to decarbonise. The first NDCs were part of the Paris Agreement but weren't nearly enough to limit temperature rises to even 2C. The new NDCs, under the ratchet mechanism, are part of the discussions at COP26.

Net zero (and carbon negative)

Net zero means that the same amount of carbon is being taken out of the atmosphere as is going into it. The UK was the first country to set a net zero target (by 2050), but many have since followed. Carbon negative takes things a step further and means you're taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than you are putting it.

Paris Agreement

Created at COP21, the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was the first time countries agreed to limit greenhouses gasses and it set out the target of keeping heating below 2C, while aiming for the safer limit of 1.5C

Ratchet mechanism

The part of the Paris Agreement that requires countries to submit new NDCs every five years.

UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

An international environmental treaty created in 1992 and signed in 1994 by 154 states at the Rio Earth Summit (officially the UN Conference on Environment and Development).

Published at 9 November 2021
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9 November 2021
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