Guide | Climate justice glossary - Museums Association

Guide | Climate justice glossary

Essential phrases and words used in discussing the climate and ecological emergency
Museums for Climate Justice
Museums Journal writers
Illustration by Lizzie Lomax
Illustration by Lizzie Lomax
Action for Climate Empowerment

A term adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The over-arching goal is to empower all members of society to engage in climate action through education; training; public awareness; public participation; public access to information; and international cooperation on these issues.


Climate adaptation means taking action to prepare for and adjust to both the current effects of climate change as well as the predicted impacts in the future.


The variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat.

Circular economy

A system designed to keep resources in use for as long
as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use, then recovering and regenerating products and materials at the end of each service life.

Climate justice

In its Climate Justice Hub, the charity Julie’s Bicycle says climate justice “frames the climate crisis as an ethical, social, environmental and political issue, rather than one that is purely scientific or physical.

“In addition to measuring carbon emissions and temperature data, we must relate the effects of climate change to systemic inequality, the legacy and continuation of colonialism, human rights and the rights of nature, capitalism and the historical responsibilities for emissions.”

Climate change

A change in global or regional climate patterns. Although the climate has changed a lot over its 4.5 billion-year history, the rapid changes seen since the mid-19th century are directly attributed to human activity.

Climate crisis

The threat of irreversible changes to the global climate that will result in catastrophic consequences including mass extinction. It is defined as a crisis, because of the urgent need to take action.


Refers to the Conference of the Parties (Cop),
the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

It currently meets once a year to review the convention’s progress. Cop26 was held in Glasgow in November 2021 and Cop27 is being held in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt on 6-18 November this year.


The purposeful clearing of forested land. Deforestation
is a particular concern in tropical rainforests because they are home to much of the world’s biodiversity.


In 2017, the American Psychological Association was the first to define what it calls eco-anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental doom”. It is not currently a diagnosable medical condition, and some environmental campaigners believe it is a reasonable and natural response to the threat of climate crisis.


Destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action.

Ecological emergency

The impact of climate change on the natural world and biodiversity.

Kyoto Protocol

This was adopted on 11 December 1997. Owing to a complex ratification process, it entered into force on 16 February 2005. There are 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol commits industrialised countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets.


Climate 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, or changing management practices or consumer behaviour.

Paris agreement

A legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 parties at Cop21 in Paris on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.


Any operation by which waste is reprocessed into products, materials or substances, for either its original or other purposes. Recycling includes the reprocessing of organic material.

Regenerative futures

This concept, which has been developed by the
Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), recognises the interdependence of the challenges we are facing today, across climate change, social and economic inequality and environmental degradation. The RSA’s regenerative futures programme supports a vision of the world where people and communities come together to be sources of health and regeneration
for all life on earth.


One definition is that it is simply something that can
be maintained at a certain rate or level. But people frequently extend this to mean “avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”.

Sustainable development

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable Development Goals

These are a call for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They recognise that ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection and job opportunities while tackling climate change and environmental protection. There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals, set up in 2015 by the UN General Assembly, with the aim to accomplish them by 2030.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

An international environmental treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system”, in part by stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. It was signed by 154 states at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro from 3-14 June 1992.

Understand emissions

Absolute emissions reduction

A reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions not accounting for any offsetting.

Anthropogenic greenhouse emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Biomass fuels or biofuels

Fuels produced from dry organic matter or combustible oils produced by plants. Only considered renewable if the vegetation producing them is maintained or replanted.

Their use in place of fossil fuels cuts greenhouse gas emissions because the plants that are the fuel sources capture carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Carbon emissions (CO2e)

The standard measurement for GHG emissions. Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) standardises greenhouse gases into units of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Carbon offsetting

The action of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions by participating in schemes making equivalent carbon dioxide reductions. Offsets do not lessen the need for reducing absolute emissions.

Carbon neutral

Carbon emissions remain stable but a reduction is achieved through offsets.

Carbon sequestration

The capture and secure storage of carbon that would otherwise enter the atmosphere.

Carbon sinks

A sink is any process, activity or mechanism that removes
a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Nature-based examples include forests and other vegetation, peat bogs and undersea kelp forests.

Climate positive

Describes an activity that goes beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions to actually create an environmental benefit by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gases or GHGs

The atmospheric gases responsible for causing global warming and climate change. The major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20).

Net emissions reduction

A reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Net zero emissions

Carbon emissions are reduced and outstanding emissions offset.

This glossary draws on sources including Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Sustainabilty Strategy April 2021  

Leave a comment

You must be to post a comment.