Climate change glossary

How does adaptation differ from mitigation? What is net-zero emissions? Climate change terms can be confusing and hard to grasp. This glossary has definitions of key words related to the Clyde Rebuilt. Our list breaks tradition and is in a hopefully useful order instead of alphabetical order.

(If you think we should add any other words to this glossary, please email us at

Climate change

Climate change is the global phenomenon of the long-term shift in global and regional climate patterns (as opposed to weather patterns, which can change from day to day). The earth’s average temperature is about 15° C. Scientists say that temperatures are rising faster than previous natural fluctuations due to the greenhouse gas effect. There is a scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activities, especially by burning fossil fuels, which add heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere of the earth. This contributes to increased temperature (also known as global warming), but also leads to sea-level rise, ocean warming and acidification, loss of ice mass in mountain glaciers worldwide, extreme weather events (including extended periods of drought, severe storms and wildfire), and biodiversity loss.

In the Glasgow City Region, climate change will cause more frequent and intense flooding, heatwaves and coastal erosion. Sea levels in the mouth of the River Clyde are forecast to rise by nearly half a metre by the 2080s while winter rainfall could increase by 50 per cent by the 2080s. The increase in total rainfall and heavy downpours are already causing more frequent flooding episodes which disrupt the infrastructure and day-to-day services that the population relies on. Vital roads, bridges, rail lines, public buildings in the Glasgow area are at significant risk as extreme weather events like storms, flooding and heatwaves are becoming more frequent. The Royal Alexandra teaching hospital in Paisley for example is at high risk of surface water flooding. This will not only cause economic damage, but will also deepen social inequality as climate change has a compounding effect on the health, financial stability and well-being of the most vulnerable population, who are less able to cope with such risks.

Fossil fuels

Coal, oil and natural gas are examples of fossil fuels that were created by decomposing animals and plants in the earth’s crust. Fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource that take millions of years to create; our supply of fossil fuels will eventually run out. The burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor to global warming as they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse gas effect.

Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases are gases in the earth’s atmosphere that trap heat from the sun. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, water vapour, ozone and methane.

Greenhouse gas effect

The greenhouse gas effect is when the gases in the earth’s atmosphere trap the sun’s heat, making the earth warmer. Human activities are changing earth’s natural greenhouse gas effect by burning fossil fuels. Too many greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere trap in more and more heat from the sun, increasing the earth’s temperature.

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is a global effort to respond to the threat of climate change. Signed by 195 countries in 2015 with the aim ‘to keep the increase in global mean surface temperature to well below 2° C, and to limit the increase to 1.5° C, since this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’.

Climate change mitigation

Climate change mitigation strategies regroup all the efforts to reduce or prevent the emission of greenhouse gases (which leads to more climate change). Some of the ways to limit future emissions are the use of new technologies and renewable energies (including wind and solar power), to make older equipment more energy efficient and to change management practices or consumer behaviour.

Net-zero emissions

Net-zero emission means that all man-​made greenhouse gas emissions must be removed from the atmosphere through reduction measures, thus restoring the earth’s natural greenhouse gas balance. To meet a goal of net-zero, any new greenhouse gas emissions that are produced must be as low as possible. And those produced emissions have to be offset by a process that reduces greenhouses gases in the atmosphere (such as planting trees or capturing carbon dioxide).

Scotland net-zero emissions

Scotland set a target date for net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gasses by 2040 in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019.

Climate resilience

Even as we work to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases and avert the worst potential impacts of climate change, the world must become more resilient, as some of these impacts are unavoidable. Climate resilience is the ability to anticipate, to prepare for and to respond to hazardous climate events, as well as climate threats and vulnerabilities. Improving climate resilience involves understanding of how climate change will create new climate-related risks and taking steps to better cope with these risks.

Climate change adaptation

Climate change adaptation comprises all the actions and solutions that a country, a region, a city or a community can develop and implement to build more resilient societies and economies, to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already happening or are expected. It is a series of changes in processes, practices and structures that aim to moderate the potential damages brought by climate change. The solutions for climate adaptation vary from one context to another, they can range from building flood defenses, setting up early warning systems for cyclones to redesigning communication systems, business operations and government policies.

The impacts of climate change are felt globally, and without drastic action now, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly. To be successful, climate adaptation strategies must be developed together with national, regional and international organisations, but also with the private sectors, civil society and the population.

Systemic change

A system is a set of connected things that operate together. The world is made up of systems. There are a multitude of connections and interactions between many different components of these systems, which means a change in one system can have great consequences in others. Climate change operates in so many complex systems that it calls for a significant difference in how we design and take actions. This is why we need systemic change, and to implement changes simultaneously in multiple components of a system to reach all or most parts of a system.

EIT Climate-KIC

EIT Climate-KIC is the EU’s climate innovation agency, working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon and resilient world by enabling systems transformation. Headquartered in Amsterdam, it operates from 13 hubs across Europe and is active in 39 countries. EIT Climate-KIC was established in 2010 and is predominately funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.

As a Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC), it brings together more than 400 partners from business, academia, the public and non-profit sectors to create networks of expertise, through which innovative products, services and systems are developed, brought to market and scaled-up for impact.

Systems innovation with EIT Climate-KIC

EIT Climate-KIC has a way of working that is collaborative, mission-led and focused on creating a connected set (or portfolio) of interventions or actions with the aim to unlock change at scale. We call this systems innovation. The aim of these method and toolkits is to support “challenge owners” like Clyde Rebuilt in their efforts to tackle climate change by transforming whole systems. With systems innovation, a set of integrated and coordinated interventions happen simultaneously in the economic, political and social systems and along whole value chains.


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