The world’s biggest climate summit has kicked off this week. The United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, presents a historic opportunity for nations to agree to life-saving commitments to cut emissions and curb run-away climate change.

Taking place in Glasgow, UK, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, world leaders, diplomats, NGOs, activists, and the media have been flocking to the city to take part. That means that suddenly there’s a lot of news coverage focused on the climate crisis and everything that politicians need to do to make COP26 a success. And while that’s great for raising awareness of this all important issue,  it can be overwhelming too.

International climate policy isn’t exactly taught in school and a barrage of media stories might have left you wondering what the difference is between your “NDCs” and your “nature-based solutions.” So to help, here’s a handy glossary of all the climate-related phrases likely to crop up while you’re following the news from the summit.


Firstly, what actually is COP? The summit’s full name is the UN Climate Change Conference and it is convened every year by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is a UN agency focused on, you guessed it, the climate.

It’s often referred to as COP, which is short for “Conference of the Parties” and essentially means a “gathering of countries.” This year will be the 26th time the conference has happened, hence the name “COP26.”

This year’s summit is so important because there’s been a two-year break with the COVID-19 pandemic meaning it had to be cancelled in 2020 (if it had gone ahead last year, we’d be on “COP27” by now). It’s also vital because climate experts say the next decade is a crucial period during which the world still has time to take the action needed to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

If the right action is taken now, as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, then that would help to put things on track for the next 10 years. Read more here to find out more about the COP26 summit and why it’s important.

1.5 Degrees

Debates about climate policy often refer to the need to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees. But where did this limit come from, and why?

It refers to how we are tracking the world’s temperature in comparison to pre-industrial temperatures. The world is already 1.1 degrees warmer, and we’re seeing changes in weather and the climate as a result.

The idea of trying to limit warming to 1.5 degrees comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an UN body founded in 1988 to regularly assess all the available science on the changing global climate. Scientific predictions have been made about what the likely effect of incremental temperature rises would be — you can read about the differences between a 1.5, 2, and 3 degree rise here.

The Paris Agreement signed at COP21 in 2015 committed all 196 countries that signed it to endeavouring to keep global warming to below 2 degrees, and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees.

Climate Adaptation

It’s vital that countries drastically cut carbon emissions to prevent the planet from continuously getting warmer — but they also need to make efforts to adapt to the changing climate too.

The world is already experiencing climate change, with hottest ever year records being broken, and extreme weather events like tropical storms and droughts getting worse and more frequent. It’s clear that to protect vulnerable communities from flooding, sea level rise, drought, and more, a significant amount of adaptation is required.

Doing this can take many forms, it could mean building flood defences but it could also mean strengthening food systems so that they can withstand shocks. It’s important that wealthy countries, that have done the most to cause climate change, step up and support lower-income countries with this process of adaptation. You can read more about climate adaptation here.

Climate Finance 

Dedicated and ring-fenced climate finance is what is needed to help pay for adaptation to climate change and cutting emissions globally.

In short, billions of dollars are needed to address the increased poverty that climate change causes, to bolster systems to cope with its effects, and to support low- and middle-income countries to manage a just transition to greener economies.

It is especially important that funds are mobilised to help the poorest communities globally — those that did the least to cause the climate crisis but are bearing the brunt of the consequences.

At the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, high-income economies pledged to mobilise $100 billion annually to fund adaptation and mitigation projects by 2020. However that figure wasn’t reached by 2020 (£80 billion was reached in 2019) and won’t be achieved over the next four years according to current pledges.

Find out more about climate finance here and read about the work of the largest climate financing organisation, the Green Climate Fund, here.

Nationally Determined Contributions — or ‘NDCs’ 

Something that will be discussed frequently at the COP26 summit are “NDCs”, short for “Nationally Determined Contributions”.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries have to submit their plans to cut emissions — their “contribution” to the global effort to tackle climate change.

These plans detail when the country expects to reach peak emissions, and when they will reach “net zero” and what that trajectory looks like. The NDCS are seen as a work in progress, and need to be updated every five years to reflect greater ambition, providing more targeted information about how each country plans to achieve net zero.

Currently the NDCs submitted do not go far enough to curb warming to 1.5 degrees, with the world currently on track for a temperature increase of 2.7 degrees Celsius. Read here for a more detailed summary of NDCs.

Nature-Based Solutions

Nature-based solutions are an important aspect of the multi-pronged approach to fighting climate change. They are any action that works to sustainably manage, restore, and protect natural ecosystems — which in turn help build resilience to the impacts of climate change.

These are solutions like restoring mangrove forests to help provide an effective natural barrier against coastal flooding, or massive tree-planting, restoring, and protection programmes to help ensure the world’s forests can effectively absorb carbon.

Forests and land ecosystems are what is known as a “carbon sink”, helping to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, so many scientists advocate “rewilding” — letting natural ecosystems restore to their natural state — to help the world recover. Read more here about groups that are leading the way with nature-based solutions that benefit both people and the planet.

Net Zero

The goal of the climate action taken by governments and societies around the world is to reach “net zero.”

That’s the state where no more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are going into the atmosphere than can be taken out, and it means cutting emissions to as close to zero as possible.

Net zero is a simple goal that requires radical action to achieve. It will mean transitioning economies relying on fossil fuels for power towards renewable sources of energy instead.

A number of states including the UK, the US, France, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan have set goals to reach net zero emissions by 2050. To achieve this, decisive action needs to be taken right now to curb emissions. Find out more about the net zero goal and how we get there here, and about the UN-led campaign to cut emissions called the “Race to Zero” here.

A Few More Acronyms…

There are few acronyms that refer to groups of countries or organisations that you might hear referred to as short-hand in news about the COP26 summit. These include:

SIDS —  Small Island Developing States, referring to a group of 58 low-lying island nations that are vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change. They also face threats from heavy rains, increased cyclones, and ocean acidification. Leaders from SIDS nations have been clear about the need for wealthy countries to keep their promises on tackling climate change.

G20 — The G20 is a forum of the 20 biggest economies in the world, made up of 19 nations and the European Union. Efforts to cut emissions must be led by these economies, which together account for between 75-80% of global trade and are home to around two-thirds of the global population. The G20 just gathered in Rome for the G20 Summit over the weekend — you can read more here about how the G20 Summit failed to live up to the level of action needed on vaccine equity, hunger, and climate change. 

AGNThe African Group of Negotiators was established at the very first COP meeting in Berlin in 1995. It’s made up of representatives from an alliance of African states to speak together at climate change negotiations. 

Join Global Citizen now in taking action here to call on world leaders gathered at COP26 to make the significant and urgent changes needed to curb rising temperatures by cutting carbon emissions, and deliver climate financing to support the most vulnerable countries in adapting to climate change.

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Defend the Planet

All the Key Climate Words You Should Know While Following COP26

By Helen Lock