Ecological community A community of plants and animals characterised by a typical assemblage of species and their abundances. See also ecosystem.
Ecological corridor A thin strip of vegetation used by wildlife, potentially allowing movement of biotic factors between two areas.
Ecophysiological process Individual organisms respond to environmental variability, such as climate change, through ecophysiological processes which operate continuously, generally at a microscopic or sub-organ scale. Ecophysiological mechanisms underpin individual organism’s tolerance to environmental stress, and comprise a broad range of responses defining the absolute tolerance limits of individuals to environmental conditions. Ecophysiological responses may scale up to control species geographic ranges.
Ecosystem The interactive system formed from all living organisms and their abiotic (physical and chemical) environment within a given area. Ecosystems cover a hierarchy of spatial scales and can comprise the entire globe, biomes at the continental scale or small, well-circumscribed systems such as a small pond.
Ecosystem approach The ecosystem approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. An ecosystem approach is based on the application of appropriate scientific methodologies focused on levels of biological organisation, which encompass the essential structure, processes, functions and interactions among organisms and their environment. It recognises that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of many ecosystems. The ecosystem approach requires adaptive management to deal with the complex and dynamic nature of ecosystems and the absence of complete knowledge or understanding of their functioning. Priority targets are conservation of biodiversity and of the ecosystem structure and functioning, in order to maintain ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services Ecological processes or functions having monetary or non-monetary value to individuals or society at large. There are (i) supporting services such as productivity or biodiversity maintenance, (ii) provisioning services such as food, fibre, or fish, (iii) regulating services such as climate regulation or carbon sequestration, and (iv) cultural services such as tourism or spiritual and aesthetic appreciation.
Ecotone Transition area between adjacent ecological communities (e.g., between forests and grasslands).
El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) El Niño, in its original sense, is a warm-water current that periodically flows along the coast of Ecuador and Peru, disrupting the local fishery. This oceanic event is associated with a fluctuation of the inter-tropical surface pressure pattern and circulation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, called the Southern Oscillation. This coupled atmosphere-ocean phenomenon is collectively known as El Niño-Southern Oscillation. During an El Niño event, the prevailing trade winds weaken and the equatorial countercurrent strengthens, causing warm surface waters in the Indonesian area to flow eastward to overlie the cold waters of the Peru current. This event has great impact on the wind, sea surface temperature, and precipitation patterns in the tropical Pacific. It has climatic effects throughout the Pacific region and in many other parts of the world. The opposite of an El Niño event is called La Niña.
Emissions scenario A plausible representation of the future development of emissions of substances that are potentially radiatively active (e.g., greenhouse gases, aerosols), based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about driving forces (such as demographic and socio-economic development, technological change) and their key relationships. In 1992, the IPCC presented a set of emissions scenarios that were used as a basis for the climate projections in the Second Assessment Report. These emissions scenarios are referred to as the IS92 scenarios. In the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) (Nakićenović et al., 2000), new emissions scenarios – the so-called SRES scenarios – were published.
Endemic Restricted or peculiar to a locality or region. With regard to human health, endemic can refer to a disease or agent present or usually prevalent in a population or geographical area at all times.
Ensemble A group of parallel model simulations used for climate projections. Variation of the results across the ensemble members gives an estimate of uncertainty. Ensembles made with the same model but different initial conditions only characterise the uncertainty associated with internal climate variability, whereas multi-model ensembles including simulations by several models also include the impact of model differences.
Epidemic Occurring suddenly in incidence rates clearly in excess of normal expectancy, applied especially to infectious diseases but may also refer to any disease, injury, or other health-related event occurring in such outbreaks.
Erosion The process of removal and transport of soil and rock by weathering, mass wasting, and the action of streams, glaciers, waves, winds and underground water.
Eustatic sea-level rise See sea-level rise.
Eutrophication The process by which a body of water (often shallow) becomes (either naturally or by pollution) rich in dissolved nutrients, with a seasonal deficiency in dissolved oxygen.
Evaporation The transition process from liquid to gaseous state.
Evapotranspiration The combined process of water evaporation from the Earth’s surface and transpiration from vegetation.
Externalities Occur when a change in the production or consumption of one individual or firm affects indirectly the well-being of another individual or firm. Externalities can be positive or negative. The impacts of pollution on ecosystems, water courses or air quality represent classic cases of negative externality.
Extinction The global disappearance of an entire species.
Extirpation The disappearance of a species from part of its range; local extinction.
Extreme weather event An event that is rare within its statistical reference distribution at a particular place. Definitions of ‘rare’ vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile. By definition, the characteristics of what is called ‘extreme weather’ may vary from place to place. Extreme weather events may typically include floods and droughts.
Feedback An interaction mechanism between processes is called a feedback. When the result of an initial process triggers changes in a second process and that in turn influences the initial one. A positive feedback intensifies the original process, and a negative feedback reduces it.
Food chain The chain of trophic relationships formed if several species feed on each other. See food web and
Food security A situation that exists when people have secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth, development and an active and healthy life. Food insecurity may be caused by the unavailability of food, insufficient purchasing power, inappropriate distribution, or inadequate use of food at the household level.
Food web The network of trophic relationships within an ecological community involving several interconnected
Forecast See climate prediction and climate projection.
Forest limit/line The upper elevational or latitudinal limit beyond which natural tree regeneration cannot develop into a closed forest stand. It is typically at a lower elevation or more distant from the poles than the tree line.
Freshwater lens A lenticular fresh groundwater body that underlies an oceanic island. It is underlain by saline water.
Functional extinction This term defines a species which has lost its capacity to persist and to recover because its populations have declined to below a minimum size. See committed to extinction.
General Circulation Model (GCM) See climate model.
Generalist A species that can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions.
Glacier A mass of land ice flowing downhill (by internal deformation and sliding at the base) and constrained by the surrounding topography (e.g., the sides of a valley or surrounding peaks). A glacier is maintained by accumulation of snow at high altitudes, balanced by melting at low altitudes or discharge into the sea.
Globalisation The growing integration and interdependence of countries worldwide through the increasing volume and variety of cross-border transactions in goods and services, free international capital flows, and the more rapid and widespread diffusion of technology, information and culture.
Greenhouse effect The process in which the absorption of infrared radiation by the atmosphere warms the Earth.
In common parlance, the term ‘greenhouse effect’ may be used to refer either to the natural greenhouse effect, due to naturally occurring greenhouse gases, or to the enhanced (anthropogenic) greenhouse effect, which results from gases emitted as a result of human activities.
Greenhouse gas 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. As well as CO2, N2O, and CH4, the Kyoto Protocol deals with the greenhouse gases sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
Gross Domestic Product Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the monetary value of all goods and services produced within a nation.
Gross National Product Gross National Product (GNP) is the monetary value of all goods and services prodced in a nation’s economy, including income generated abroad by domestic residents, but without income generated by foreigners.
Gross primary production The total carbon fixed by plant through photosynthesis.
Groundwater recharge The process by which external water is added to the zone of saturation of an aquifer, either directly into a formation or indirectly by way of another formation.
Groyne A low, narrow jetty, usually extending roughly perpendicular to the shoreline, designed to protect the shore from erosion by currents, tides or waves, by trapping sand for the purpose of replenishing or making a beach.
Habitat The locality or natural home in which a particular plant, animal, or group of closely associated organisms lives.
Hantavirus A virus in the family Bunyaviridae that causes a type of haemorrhagic fever. It is thought that humans catch the disease mainly from infected rodents, either through direct contact with the animals or by inhaling or ingesting dust that contains aerosolised viral particles from their dried urine and other secretions.
Heat island An urban area characterised by ambient temperatures higher than those of the surrounding non-urban area. The cause is a higher absorption of solar energy by materials of the urban fabric such as asphalt.
Herbaceous Flowering, non-woody.
Human system Any system in which human organisations play a major role. Often, but not always, the term is synonymous with ‘society’ or ‘social system’ e.g., agricultural system, political system, technological system, economic system; all are human systems in the sense applied in the AR4.
Hydrographic events Events that alter the state or current of waters in oceans, rivers or lakes.
Hydrological systems The systems involved in movement, distribution, and quality of water throughout the Earth, including both the hydrologic cycle and water resources.
Hypolimnetic Referring to the part of a lake below the thermocline made up of water that is stagnant and of essentially uniform temperature except during the period of overturn.
Hypoxic events Events that lead to a deficiency of oxygen.
Ice cap A dome-shaped ice mass covering a highland area that is considerably smaller in extent than an ice sheet.
Ice sheet A mass of land ice that is sufficiently deep to cover most of the underlying bedrock topography. An ice sheet flows outwards from a high central plateau with a small average surface slope. The margins slope steeply, and the ice is discharged through fast-flowing ice streams or outlet glaciers, in some cases into the sea or into ice shelves floating on the sea. There are only two large ice sheets in the modern world – on Greenland and Antarctica, the Antarctic ice sheet being divided into east and west by the Transantarctic Mountains; during glacial periods there were others.
Ice shelf A floating ice sheet of considerable thickness attached to a coast (usually of great horizontal extent with a level or gently undulating surface); often a seaward extension of ice sheets. Nearly all ice shelves are in Antarctica.
(climate change) Impact assessment The practice of identifying and evaluating, in monetary and/or non-monetary terms, the effects of climate change on natural and human systems.
(climate change) Impacts The effects of climate change on natural and human systems. Depending on the consideration of adaptation, one can distinguish between potential impacts and residual impacts:
Potential impacts: all impacts that may occur given a projected change in climate, without considering adaptation.
Residual impacts: the impacts of climate change that would occur after adaptation. See also aggregate impacts, market impacts, and non-market impacts.
Indigenous peoples No internationally accepted definition of indigenous peoples exists. Common characteristics often applied under international law, and by United Nations agencies to distinguish indigenous peoples include: residence within or attachment to geographically distinct traditional habitats, ancestral territories, and their natural resources; maintenance of cultural and social identities, and social, economic, cultural and political institutions separate from mainstream or dominant societies and cultures; descent from population groups present in a given area, most frequently before modern states or territories were created and current borders defined; and self-identification as being part of a distinct indigenous cultural group, and the desire to preserve that cultural identity.
Industrial revolution A period of rapid industrial growth with far-reaching social and economic consequences, beginning in England during the second half of the 18th century and spreading to Europe and later to other countries including the USA. The industrial revolution marks the beginning of a strong increase in combustion of fossil fuels and related emissions of
carbon dioxide. In the AR4, the term ‘pre-industrial’ refers, somewhat arbitrarily, to the period before 1750.
Infectious disease Any disease caused by microbial agents that can be transmitted from one person to another or from animals to people. This may occur by direct physical contact, by handling of an object that has picked up infective organisms, through a disease carrier, via contaminated water, or by the spread of infected droplets coughed or exhaled into the air.
Infrastructure The basic equipment, utilities, productive enterprises, installations and services essential for the development, operation and growth of an organisation, city or nation.
Integrated assessment An interdisciplinary process of combining, interpreting and communicating knowledge from diverse scientific disciplines so that all relevant aspects of a complex societal issue can be evaluated and considered for the benefit of decision-making.
Integrated water resources management (IWRM) The prevailing concept for water management which, however, has not been defined unambiguously. IWRM is based on four principles that were formulated by the International Conference on Water and the Environment in Dublin, 1992: (1) fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment; (2) water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels; (3) women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water; (4) water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognised as an economic good.
Invasive species and invasive alien species (IAS) A species aggressively expanding its range and population density into a region in which it is not native, often through out-competing or otherwise dominating native species.
Irrigation water-use efficiency Irrigation water-use efficiency is the amount of biomass or seed yield produced per unit irrigation water applied, typically about 1 tonne of dry matter per 100 mm water applied.
Isohyet A line on a map connecting locations that receive the same amount of rainfall.
Joint attribution Involves both attribution of observed changes to regional climate change and attribution of a measurable portion of either regional climate change or the associated observed changes in the system to anthropogenic causes, beyond natural variability. This process involves statistically linking climate-change simulations from climate models with the observed responses in the natural or managed system. Confidence in joint attribution statements must be lower than the confidence in either of the individual attribution steps alone due to the combination of two separate statistical assessments.
Keystone species A species that has a central servicing role affecting many other organisms and whose demise is likely to result in the loss of a number of species and lead to major changes in ecosystem function.
Kyoto Protocol The Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. It contains legally binding commitments, in addition to those included in the UNFCCC. Countries included in Annex B of the Protocol (most member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and those with economies in transition) agreed to reduce their anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, and SF6) by at least 5% below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012. The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005.
La Niña See El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).
Landslide A mass of material that has slipped downhill by gravity, often assisted by water when the material is saturated; the rapid movement of a mass of soil, rock or debris down a slope.
Large-scale singularities Abrupt and dramatic changes in the state of given systems, in response to gradual changes in driving forces. For example, a gradual increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations may lead to such large-scale singularities as slowdown or collapse of the thermohaline circulation or collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The occurrence, magnitude, and timing of large-scale singularities are difficult to predict.
Last Glacial Maximum The Last Glacial Maximum refers to the time of maximum extent of the ice sheets during the last glaciation, approximately 21,000 years ago.
Leaching The removal of soil elements or applied chemicals by water movement through the soil.
Leaf area index (LAI) The ratio between the total leaf surface area of a plant and the ground area covered by its leaves.
Legume Plants that fix nitrogen from the air through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their soil and root systems
(e.g., soybean, peas, beans, lucerne, clovers).
Likelihood The likelihood of an occurrence, an outcome or a result, where this can be estimated probabilistically, is expressed in this Report using a standard terminology, defined in the Introduction. See also uncertainty and confidence.
Limnology Study of lakes and their biota.
Littoral zone A coastal region; the zone between high and low watermarks.
Malaria Endemic or epidemic parasitic disease caused by species of the genus Plasmodium (Protozoa) and transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles; produces bouts of high fever and systemic disorders, affects about 300 million and kills approximately 2 million people worldwide every year.
Market impacts Impacts that can be quantified in monetary terms, and directly affect Gross Domestic Product –
e.g., changes in the price of agricultural inputs and/or goods. See also non-market impacts.
Meningitis Inflammation of the meninges (part of the covering of the brain), usually caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.
Meridional overturning circulation (MOC) See thermohaline circulation (THC).
Microclimate Local climate at or near the Earth’s surface. See also climate.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) A list of ten goals, including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, improving maternal health, and ensuring environmental sustainability, adopted in 2000 by the UN General Assembly, i.e.,
191 States, to be reached by 2015. The MDGs commit the international community to an expanded vision of development, and have been commonly accepted as a framework for measuring development progress.
Mires Peat-accumulating wetlands. See bog.
Mitigation An anthropogenic intervention to reduce the anthropogenic forcing of the climate system; it includes strategies to reduce greenhouse gas sources and emissions and enhancing greenhouse gas sinks.
Mixed layer The upper region of the ocean, well mixed by interaction with the overlying atmosphere.
Monsoon A monsoon is a tropical and sub-tropical seasonal reversal in both the surface winds and associated precipitation.
Montane The biogeographic zone made up of relatively moist, cool upland slopes below the sub-alpine zone that is characterised by the presence of mixed deciduous at lower and coniferous evergreen forests at higher elevations.
Morbidity Rate of occurrence of disease or other health disorders within a population, taking account of the age-specific morbidity rates. Morbidity indicators include chronic disease incidence/prevalence, rates of hospitalisation, primary care consultations, disability-days (i.e., days of absence from work), and prevalence of symptoms.
Morphology The form and structure of an organism or land-form, or any of its parts.
Mortality Rate of occurrence of death within a population; calculation of mortality takes account of age-specific death rates, and can thus yield measures of life expectancy and the extent of premature death.
Net biome production (NBP) Net biome production is the net ecosystem production (NEP) minus carbon losses resulting from disturbances such as fire or insect defoliation.
Net ecosystem production (NEP) Net ecosystem production is the difference between net primary production (NPP) and heterotrophic respiration (mostly decomposition of dead organic matter) of that ecosystem over the same area (see also net biome production (NBP)).
Net primary production (NPP) Net primary production is the gross primary production minus autotrophic respiration, i.e., the sum of metabolic processes for plant growth and maintenance, over the same area.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) Any of several oxides of nitrogen.
No regrets policy A policy that would generate net social and/or economic benefits irrespective of whether or not anthropogenic climate change occurs.
Non-linearity A process is called ‘non-linear’ when there is no simple proportional relation between cause and effect.
Non-market impacts Impacts that affect ecosystems or human welfare, but that are not easily expressed in monetary terms, e.g., an increased risk of premature death, or increases in the number of people at risk of hunger. See also market impacts.
Normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) A satellite-based remotely sensed measure of the ‘greenness’ of the vegetation cover.
North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) consists of opposing variations of barometric pressure near Iceland and near the Azores. It is the dominant mode of winter climate variability in the North Atlantic region.
Ocean acidification Increased concentrations of CO2in sea water causing a measurable increase in acidity (i.e., a reduction in ocean pH). This may lead to reduced calcification rates of calcifying organisms such as corals, molluscs, algae and crustacea.
Ombrotrophic bog An acidic peat-accumulating wetland that is rainwater (instead of groundwater) fed and thus particularly poor in nutrients.
Opportunity costs The cost of an economic activity forgone through the choice of another activity.
Ozone The triatomic form of oxygen (O3), a gaseous atmospheric constituent. In the troposphere, it is created both naturally and by photochemical reactions involving gases resulting from human activities (photochemical smog). In high concentrations, tropospheric ozone can be harmful to many living organisms. Tropospheric ozone acts as a greenhouse gas. In the stratosphere, ozone is created by the interaction between solar ultraviolet radiation and molecular oxygen (O2). Depletion of stratospheric ozone, due to chemical reactions that may be enhanced by climate change, results in an increased ground-level flux of ultraviolet (UV) B radiation.