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Climate Change Terms

Climate Change Terminology

Adaptation: Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects that moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation.

Adaptation benefits: The avoided damage costs or the accrued benefits following the adoption and implementation of adaptation measures.

Adaptation costs: Costs of planning, preparing for, facilitating, and implementing adaptation measures, including transition costs.

Adaptive capacity: The ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes), to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences.

Climate scenario: A plausible and often simplified representation of the future climate, based on an internally consistent set of climatological relationships that has been constructed for explicit use in investigating the potential consequences of anthropogenic climate change, often serving as input to impact models. Climate projections often serve as the raw material for constructing climate scenarios, but climate scenarios usually require additional information, such as the observed current climate. A “climate change scenario” is the difference between a climate scenario and the current climate.

Climate projection: A projection of the response of the climate system to emission or concentration scenarios of GHGs and aerosols, or radiative forcing scenarios, often based on simulations by climate models. Climate projections are distinguished from climate predictions to emphasise that climate projections depend on the emission/concentration/radiative forcing scenario used, which is based on assumptions about, for example, future socio-economic and technological developments that may or may not be realized and are therefore subject to uncertainty.

Climate variability (CV): Climate variability refers to variations in the mean state and other statistics (such as standard deviations, the occurrence of extremes, etc.) of the climate on all temporal and spatial scales beyond individual weather events. Variability may be due to natural internal processes within the climate system (internal variability), or to variations in natural or anthropogenic external forcing (external variability).

Greenhouse gas (GHG): Greenhouse gases are those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere and clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and ozone (O3) are the primary greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Hazard: A field of certain threats or impacts, which exist regardless of the availability of object or element (i.e., recipient) exposed to the impact (compare with gravitational, electromagnetic or radiation fields).

Hazard identification: The process of recognizing that a hazard exists and defining its characteristics.

Mitigation: A human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of GHGs

Precautionary principle: It absorbs notions of risk prevention, cost- effectiveness, ethical responsibilities toward maintaining the integrity of human and natural systems, and the fallibility of human understanding. The application of the precautionary principle or approach recognizes that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used to postpone decisions where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm.

Residual risk: The risk that remains after all management options have been exhausted.

Resilience: The capacity of a system, community or society potentially exposed to hazards to adapt, by resisting or changing in order to reach and maintain an acceptable level of functioning and structure. This is determined by the degree to which the social system is capable of organizing itself to increase its capacity for learning from past disasters for better future protection and to improve risk reduction measures.

Risk: A function of the probability and consequences (i.e., magnitude and severity) of an adverse event or hazard.

Risk communication: Any two-way communication between stakeholders about the existence, nature, form, severity, or acceptability of risks.

Risk control option: An action intended to reduce the frequency and/or severity of injury or loss, including a decision not to pursue the activity.

Risk information library: A collection of all information developed through a risk-management process. This includes information on the risks, decisions, stakeholder views, meetings and other information that may be of value.

Risk management: Decisions to accept exposure or to reduce vulnerabilities by either mitigating the risks or applying cost-effective controls.

Risk perception: The significance assigned to risks by stakeholders. An individual’s or group’s perception, or belief, that a particular event or hazard is a threat (usually to human health or property). Perceptions of risk are generally determined by one’s values, attitudes, socioeconomic class, gender, and other factors. In this sense, risk is often said to be “socially constructed”.

Risk scenario: A defined sequence of events with an associated frequency and consequences.

Vulnerability: The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

 Adapted from IPCC 2001 and 2007, with additions by the Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network (C-CIARN).

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