Special Report: Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate
Ch 00


Coordinating Editor

  • Nora M. Weyer (Germany)


Note: This Glossary defines some specific terms as the Lead Authors intend them to be interpreted in the context of this Special Report. Blue italicisations indicate terms defined in this Glossary. Note that subterms are in bold italics beneath main terms.

Ablation (of glaciers, ice sheets, or snow cover)

All processes that reduce the mass of a glacier, ice sheet or snow cover. The main processes are melting, and for glaciers also calving (or, when the glacier nourishes an ice shelf, discharge of ice across the grounding line), but other processes such as sublimation and loss of wind-blown snow can also contribute to ablation. Ablation also refers to the mass lost by any of these processes. See also Mass balance/budget (of glaciers or ice sheets).

Abrupt climate change

Abrupt change refers to a change that is substantially faster than the rate of change in the recent history of the affected components of a system. Abrupt climate change refers to a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems. See also Climate change, Human system, Natural systems and Tipping point.

Accumulation (of glaciers, ice sheets or snow cover)

All processes that add to the mass of a glacier, an ice sheet or snow cover. The main process of accumulation is snowfall. Accumulation also includes deposition of hoar, freezing rain, other types of solid precipitation, gain of wind-blown snow, avalanching and basal accumulation (often beneath floating ice). See also Avalanche and Mass balance/ budget (of glaciers or ice sheets).

Active layer

Layer of ground above permafrost subject to annual thawing and freezing.

See Adaptive capacity.


In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.

Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) The use of ecosystem management activities to increase the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of people and ecosystems to climate change (Campbell et al., 2009).

Evolutionary adaptation The process whereby a species or population becomes better able to live in a changing environment, through the selection of heritable traits. Biologists usually distinguish evolutionary adaptation from acclimatisation, with the latter occurring within an organism’s lifetime.

Incremental adaptation Adaptation that maintains the essence and integrity of a system or process at a given scale (Park et al., 2012). In some cases, incremental adaptation can accrue to result in transformational adaptation (Tàbara et al., 2018; Termeer et al., 2017). Incremental adaptations to change in climate are understood as extensions of actions and behaviours that already reduce the losses or enhance the benefits of natural variations in extreme weather/climate events.

Transformational adaptation Adaptation that changes the fundamental attributes of a social-ecological system in anticipation of climate change and its impacts; and adaptation responses that will be required in the face of a global failure to mitigate the causes of anthropogenic climate change and are characterised by system-wide change or changes across more than one system, by a focus on the future and long-term change, or by a direct questioning of the effectiveness of existing systems, social injustices and power imbalances.

Adaptation limits The point at which an actor’s objectives (or system needs) cannot be secured from intolerable risks through adaptive actions.

Hard adaptation limit – No adaptive actions are possible to avoid intolerable risks.

Soft adaptation limit – Options may exist but are currently not available to avoid intolerable risks through adaptive action.

See also Adaptation options, Adaptive capacity, Justice, Maladaptive actions (Maladaptation) and Mitigation (of climate change).

Adaptation limits

See Adaptation.

Adaptation options

The array of strategies and measures that are available and appropriate for addressing adaptation. They include a wide range of actions that can be categorised as structural, institutional, ecological or behavioural. See also Adaptive capacity and Maladaptive actions (Maladaptation).

Adaptation pathways

See Pathways.

Adaptive capacity

The ability of systems, institutions, humans and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities or to respond to consequences (IPCC, 2014; MA, 2005). See also Adaptation.

Adaptive governance

See Governance.


A suspension of airborne solid or liquid particles, with a typical size between a few nanometres and 10 μm, that reside in the atmosphere for at least several hours. The term aerosol, which includes both the particles and the suspending gas, is often used in this Special Report in its plural form to mean ‘aerosol particles’. Aerosols may be of either natural or anthropogenic origin. Aerosols can influence climate in several ways: directly through scattering and absorbing radiation, and indirectly by acting as cloud condensation nuclei or ice nuclei, modifying the optical properties and lifetime of clouds or upon deposition on snow or icecovered surfaces thereby altering their albedo and contributing to climate feedback. Atmospheric aerosols, whether natural or anthropogenic, originate from two different pathways: emissions of primary particulate matter (PM), and formation of secondary PM from gaseous precursors. The bulk of aerosols are of natural origin. Some scientists use group labels that refer to the chemical composition, namely: sea salt, organic carbon, black carbon (BC), mineral species (mainly desert dust), sulphate, nitrate and ammonium. These labels are, however, imperfect as aerosols combine particles to create complex mixtures. See also Short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs).


In this Special Report, the degree of agreement within the scientific body of knowledge on a particular finding is assessed based on multiple lines of evidence (e.g., mechanistic understanding, theory, data, models, expert judgement) and expressed qualitatively (Mastrandrea et al., 2010). See also Confidence, Likelihood and Uncertainty.


The proportion of sunlight (solar radiation) reflected by a surface or object, often expressed as a percentage. Clouds, snow and ice usually have high albedo; soil surfaces cover the albedo range from high to low; vegetation in the dry season and/or in arid zones can have high albedo; whereas photosynthetically active vegetation and the ocean have low albedo. The Earth’s planetary albedo changes mainly through varying cloudiness, snow, ice, leaf area and land cover changes.

Alien (non-native) species

An introduced species (alien species, exotic species, non-indigenous species, or non-native species) living outside its native distributional range, but which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Non-native species can have various effects on and adversely affect the local ecosystem. See also Endemic species and Invasive species.


The deviation of a variable from its value averaged over a reference period.


Resulting from or produced by human activities. See also Anthropogenic emissions.

Anthropogenic emissions

Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), precursors of GHGs, and aerosols, caused by human activities. These activities include the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land use and land use changes (LULUC), livestock production, fertilisation, waste management, and industrial processes. See also Anthropogenic.

Anthropogenic subsidence

Downward motion of the land surface induced by anthropogenic drivers (e.g., loading, extraction of hydrocarbons and/or groundwater, drainage, mining activities) causing sediment compaction or subsidence/deformation of the sedimentary sequence, or oxidation of organic material, thereby leading to relative sea level rise. See also Anthropogenic and Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall).

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)

See Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC).


The gaseous envelope surrounding the Earth, divided into five layers — the troposphere, which contains half of the Earth’s atmosphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, the thermosphere, and the exosphere, which is the outer limit of the atmosphere. The dry atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen (N2, 78.1% volume mixing ratio) and oxygen (O2, 20.9% volume mixing ratio), together with a number of trace gases, such as argon (Ar, 0.93% volume mixing ratio), helium (He) and radiatively active greenhouse gases (GHG) such as carbon dioxide (CO2, 0.04% volume mixing ratio) and ozone (O3). In addition, the atmosphere contains the GHG water vapour (H2O), whose amounts are highly variable but typically around 1% volume mixing ratio. The atmosphere also contains clouds and aerosols. See also Climate system, Hydrological cycle, Methane (CH4) and Radiative forcing.

Atmosphere-ocean general circulation model (AOGCM)

See Climate model.


See Detection and attribution.


A mass of snow, ice, earth or rocks, or a mixture of these, falling down a mountainside.


The community of organisms living on the bottom or in sediments of a body of water (such as an ocean, river or lake). The ecological zone at the bottom of a body of water, including the sediment surface and some sub-surface layers, is known as the ‘benthic zone’.


or biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, among other things, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems (UN, 1992). See also Ecosystem service and Functional diversity.

Biological (carbon) pump

A series of ocean processes through which inorganic carbon (as carbon dioxide, CO2) is fixed as organic matter by photosynthesis in sunlit surface water and then transported to the ocean interior, and possibly the sediment, resulting in the storage of carbon. See also Carbonate pump, Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC), Microbial carbon pump and Solubility pump.


Organic material excluding the material that is fossilised or embedded in geological formations. Biomass may refer to the mass of organic matter in a specific area (ISO, 2014).

Black carbon (BC)

A relatively pure form of carbon, also known as soot, arising from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel and biomass. It only stays in the atmosphere for days or weeks. BC is a climate forcing agent with strong warming effect, both in the atmosphere and when deposited on snow or ice. See also Aerosol, Albedo, Forcing and Short-lived climate forcers (SLCF).

Blue carbon

All biologically-driven carbon fluxes and storage in marine systems that are amenable to management can be considered as blue carbon. Coastal blue carbon focuses on rooted vegetation in the coastal zone, such as tidal marshes, mangroves and seagrasses. These ecosystems have high carbon burial rates on a per unit area basis and accumulate carbon in their soils and sediments. They provide many non-climatic benefits and can contribute to ecosystem-based adaptation. If degraded or lost, coastal blue carbon ecosystems are likely to release most of their carbon back to the atmosphere. There is current debate regarding the application of the blue carbon concept to other coastal and non-coastal processes and ecosystems, including the open ocean. See also Carbon cycle, Coast, Ecosystem service and Sequestration.

Calving (of glaciers or ice sheets)

The process of mechanical destruction of a mass of ice usually typical of marine-terminating glaciers; in the latter case, the ice calving (or breaking away) from the glacier edge can lead to the formation of icebergs. See also Ice sheet and Marine ice cliff instability (MICI).

Carbonate pump

Ocean carbon fixation through the biological formation of carbonates, primarily by plankton that generate bio-mineral particles that sink to the ocean interior, and possibly the sediment. It is also called carbonate counter-pump, since the formation of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) is accompanied by the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) to surrounding water and subsequently to the atmosphere. See also Biological (carbon) pump, Blue carbon, Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC), Microbial carbon pump and Solubility pump.

Carbon budget

refers to three concepts in the literature: (1) an assessment of carbon cycle sources and sinks on a global level, through the synthesis of evidence for fossil-fuel and cement emissions, land use change emissions, ocean and land carbon dioxide (CO2) sinks, and the resulting atmospheric CO2 growth rate. This is referred to as the global carbon budget; (2) the estimated cumulative amount of global CO2 emissions that is estimated to limit global surface temperature to a given level above a reference period, taking into account global surface temperature contributions of other GHGs and climate forcers; (3) the distribution of the carbon budget defined under (2) to the regional, national, or sub-national level based on considerations of equity, costs or efficiency. See also Atmosphere, Forcing and Land.

Carbon cycle

The flow of carbon (in various forms, e.g., as carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon in biomass, and carbon dissolved in the ocean as carbonate and bicarbonate) through the atmosphere, hydrosphere, ocean, terrestrial and marine biosphere and lithosphere. In this Special Report, the reference unit for the global carbon cycle is GtCO2 or GtC (one Gigatonne = 1 Gt = 1015 grams; 1 GtC corresponds to 3.667 GtCO2). See also Atmosphere, Blue carbon and Ocean acidification (OA).

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

A naturally occurring gas, CO2 is also a by-product of burning fossil fuels (such as oil, gas and coal), of burning biomass, of land use changes (LUC) and of industrial processes (e.g., cement production). It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) that affects the Earth’s radiative balance. It is the reference gas against which other GHGs are measured and therefore has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 1. See also Global warming, Greenhouse gas (GHG), Land and Ocean acidification (OA).

Carbon dioxide removal (CDR)

Anthropogenic activities removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and durably storing it in geological, terrestrial, or ocean reservoirs, or in products. It includes existing and potential anthropogenic enhancement of biological or geochemical CO2 sinks and direct air capture and storage but excludes natural CO2 uptake not directly caused by human activities. See also Greenhouse gas removal (GGR), Mitigation (of climate change) and Negative emissions.

Carbon price

The price for avoided or released carbon dioxide (CO2) or CO2-equivalent emissions. This may refer to the rate of a carbon tax, or the price of emission permits. In many models that are used to assess the economic costs of mitigation, carbon prices are used as a proxy to represent the level of effort in mitigation policies.

Carbon sequestration

See Sequestration.

Carbon sink

See Sink.

Cascading impacts

from extreme weather/climate events occur when an extreme hazard generates a sequence of secondary events in natural and human systems that result in physical, natural, social or economic disruption, whereby the resulting impact is significantly larger than the initial impact. Cascading impacts are complex and multidimensional, and are associated more with the magnitude of vulnerability than with that of the hazard (modified from Pescaroli & Alexander, 2015). See also Impacts (consequences, outcomes), Natural systems and Risk.


in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather—or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities—over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The relevant quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.

Climate change

A change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g., by using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings such as modulations of the solar cycles, volcanic eruptions and persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. Note that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in its Article 1, defines climate change as: ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’. The UNFCCC thus makes a distinction between climate change attributable to human activities altering the atmospheric composition and climate variability attributable to natural causes. See also Global warming, Ocean acidification (OA) and Detection and attribution.

Climate extreme (extreme weather or climate event)

The occurrence of a value of a weather or climate variable above (or below) a threshold value near the upper (or lower) ends of the range of observed values of the variable. For simplicity, both extreme weather events and extreme climate events are referred to collectively as ‘climate extremes’. See also Extreme weather/ climate event.

Climate feedback

An interaction in which a perturbation in one climate quantity causes a change in a second and the change in the second quantity ultimately leads to an additional change in the first. A negative feedback is one in which the initial perturbation is weakened by the changes it causes; a positive feedback is one in which the initial perturbation is enhanced. The initial perturbation can either be externally forced or arise as part of internal variability. See also Climate variability and Forcing.

Climate governance

See Governance.

Climate model

A qualitative or quantitative representation of the climate system based on the physical, chemical and biological properties of its components, their interactions and feedback processes and accounting for some of its known properties. The climate system can be represented by models of varying complexity; that is, for any one component or combination of components a spectrum or hierarchy of models can be identified, differing in such aspects as the number of spatial dimensions, the extent to which physical, chemical or biological processes are explicitly represented, or the level at which empirical parametrisations are involved. There is an evolution towards more complex models with interactive chemistry and biology scenarios. Climate models are applied as a research tool to study and simulate the climate and for operational purposes, including monthly, seasonal and interannual climate predictions. See also Climate sensitivity and Earth system model (ESM).

Climate projection

Simulated response of the climate system to a scenario of future emissions or concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols and changes in land use, generally derived using climate models. Climate projections depend on an emission/concentration/ radiative forcing scenario, which is in turn based on assumptions concerning, for example, future socioeconomic and technological developments that may or may not be realised. See also (Model) Ensemble, Projection and Radiative forcing.

Climate-resilient development pathways (CRDPs)

Trajectories that strengthen sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty and reduce inequalities while promoting fair and cross-scalar adaptation to and resilience in a changing climate. They raise the ethics, equity, and feasibility aspects of the deep societal transformation needed to drastically reduce emissions to limit global warming (e.g., to well below 2oC) and achieve desirable and liveable futures and well-being for all. See also Equality.

Climate sensitivity

The change in the annual global mean surface temperature (GMST) in response to a change in the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration or other radiative forcing.

Equilibrium climate sensitivity The equilibrium (steady state) change in the globally-averaged near-surface temperature following a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration from preindustrial conditions. Often estimated through experiments in atmosphere-ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) where CO2 levels are either quadrupled or doubled from pre-industrial levels and which are integrated for 100-200 years. A related quantity, the climate feedback parameter (unit: W m–2 oC-1) refers to the top of atmosphere budget change per degree of globally-averaged near-surface temperature change. See also Climate model and Global mean surface temperature (GMST).

Climate system

Global system consisting of five major components: the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere and biosphere, and the interactions between them. The climate system changes in time under the influence of its own internal dynamics and because of external forcings such as volcanic eruptions, solar variations, orbital forcing, and anthropogenic forcings such as the changing composition of the atmosphere and land use change.

Climate variability

Deviations of some climate variables from a given mean state (including the occurrence of extremes, etc.) at all spatial and temporal scales beyond that of individual weather events. Variability may be intrinsic, due to fluctuations of processes internal to the climate system (internal variability), or extrinsic, due to variations in natural or anthropogenic external forcing (forced variability).


The land near to the sea. The term ‘coastal’ can refer to that land (e.g., as in ‘coastal communities’), or to that part of the marine environment that is strongly influenced by land-based processes. Thus, coastal seas are generally shallow and near-shore. The landward and seaward limits of the coastal zone are not consistently defined, neither scientifically nor legally. Thus, coastal waters can either be considered as equivalent to territorial waters (extending 12 nautical miles/22.2 km from mean low water), or to the full Exclusive Economic Zone, or to shelf seas, with less than 200 m water depth. See also Ocean, Ocean deoxygenation and Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall).


The positive effects that a policy or measure aimed at one objective might have on other objectives, thereby increasing the total benefits for society or the environment. Co-benefits are often subject to uncertainty and depend on local circumstances and implementation practices, among other factors. Co-benefits are also referred to as ancillary benefits. See also Risk.

Compound events

See Compound weather/climate events.

Compound weather/climate events

The combination of multiple drivers and/or hazards that contributes to societal and environmental risk (Zscheischler et al., 2018).

Compound risks

arise from the interaction of hazards, which may be characterised by single extreme events or multiple coincident or sequential events that interact with exposed systems or sectors. See also Extreme weather/ climate event and Risk.


The robustness of a finding based on the type, amount, quality and consistency of evidence (e.g., mechanistic understanding, theory, data, models, expert judgment) and on the degree of agreement across multiple lines of evidence. In this Special Report, confidence is expressed qualitatively (Mastrandrea et al., 2010). See Section 1.8.3 for the list of confidence levels used. See also Likelihood and Uncertainty.

Coral reef

An underwater ecosystem characterised by structure-building stony corals. Warm water coral reefs occur in shallow seas, mostly in the tropics, with the corals (animals) containing algae (plants) that depend on light and relatively stable temperature conditions. Cold water coral reefs occur throughout the world, mostly at water depths of 50–500 m. In both kinds of reef, living corals frequently grow on older, dead material, predominantly made of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Both warm and cold-water coral reefs support high biodiversity of fish and other groups, and are considered to be especially vulnerable to climate change. See also Ocean acidification (OA).

Cost-benefit analysis

Monetary assessment of all negative and positive impacts associated with a given action. Cost-benefit analysis enables comparison of different interventions, investments or strategies and reveal how a given investment or policy effort pays off for a particular person, company or country. Cost-benefit analyses representing society’s point of view are important for climate change decision making, but there are difficulties in aggregating costs and benefits across different actors and across timescales. See also Discounting.


A measure of the cost at which a policy goal or outcome is achieved. The lower the cost, the greater the cost-effectiveness. See also Private costs.

Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP)

A climate modelling activity from the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) which coordinates and archives climate model simulations based on shared model inputs by modelling groups from around the world. The CMIP3 multi-model data set includes projections using Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) scenarios. The CMIP5 data set includes projections using the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP). The CMIP6 phase involves a suite of common model experiments as well as an ensemble of CMIP-endorsed Model Intercomparison Projects (MIPs). See also Climate projection.


The components of the Earth System at and below the land and ocean surface that are frozen, including snow cover, glaciers, ice sheets, ice shelves, icebergs, sea ice, lake ice, river ice, permafrost and seasonally frozen ground. See also Climate system.

Cultural services

See Ecosystem services.

Cumulative emissions

The total amount of emissions released over a specified period of time. See also Carbon budget.



General circulation model

See Climate model.


A broad set of methods and technologies that aim to deliberately alter the climate system in order to alleviate the impacts of cli- mate change. Most, but not all, methods seek to either (1) reduce the amount of absorbed solar energy in the climate system (solar radiation management, or solar radiation modification, SRM) or (2) increase net carbon sinks from the atmosphere at a scale suf- ficiently large to alter climate (i.e., carbon dioxide removal, CDR). Scale and intent are of central importance. Two key characteristics of geoengineering methods of particular concern are that they use or affect the climate system (e.g., atmosphere, land or ocean) globally or regionally and/or could have substantive unintended effects that cross national boundaries. Geoengineering is different from weather modification and ecological engineering, but the boundary can be unclear (IPCC, 2012b, p. 2). See also Blue carbon.


State of a surface that was covered by glacier ice in the past, but not at present.


A perennial mass of ice, and possibly firn and snow, originating on the land surface by accumulation and compaction of snow and showing evidence of past or present flow. A glacier typically gains mass by accumulation of snow, and loses mass by ablation. Land ice masses of continental size (>50,000 km2) are referred to as ice sheets (Cogley et al., 2011). See also Calving (of glaciers or ice sheets), Cryosphere, Grounding line and Mass balance/budget (of glaciersoricesheets).

Glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF)/Glacier lake outburst

A sudden release of water from a glacier lake, including any of the following types – a glacier-dammed lake, a pro-glacial moraine- dammed lake or water that was stored within, under or on the glacier.

Global climate model

See Climate model.


Annex I

Global mean surface temperature (GMST)

Estimated global average of near-surface air temperatures over land and sea ice, and sea surface temperature (SST) over ice-free ocean regions, with changes normally expressed as departures from a value over a specified reference period. When estimating changes in GMST, near-surface air temperatures over both land and oceans are also used.

Global warming

An increase in global mean surface temperature (GMST) averaged over a 30-year period, or the 30-year period centred on a particular year or decade, expressed relative to pre-industrial levels unless otherwise specified. For 30-year periods that span past and future years, the current multi-decadal warming trend is assumed to continue. See also Climate change and Climate variability.


In this Special Report, governance refers to the effort to establish, reaffirm or change formal and informal institutions at all scales to negotiate relationships, resolve social conflicts and realise mutual gains (Paavola, 2007; Williamson, 2000). It refers to how the economy and society are governed or regulated; and how collective interests are defined, reconciled and institutionalised (Peters and Pierre, 2001). Governance may be an act of governments (e.g., a government restricting resource use), non-governmental organisation (e.g., issuing green certification), private actors (e.g., resource users establishing rules or norms for restricting use of a common resource) or any combination of these. Governance does not only include establishing institutions such as laws or policies, but also their implementation, enforcement and monitoring. The term ‘governance’ is used in diverse and contested ways.

Adaptive governance An emerging term in the literature for the evolution of formal and informal institutions of governance that prioritise planning, implementation and evaluation of policy through iterative social learning; in the context of climate change, governance facilitating social learning to steer the use and protection of natural resources, and ecosystem services, particularly in situations of complexity and uncertainty.

Climate governance includes efforts to share the burden of emission reduction amongst countries, sectors and groups of society (mitigation), and to resolve conflicts involved in, or to realise mutual gains through, adapting to climate change.

Deliberative governance involves decision making through inclusive public conversation which allows opportunity for developing policy options through public discussion rather than collating individual preferences through voting or referenda (although the latter governance mechanisms can also be proceeded and legitimated by public deliberation processes).

Multi-level governance refers to the dispersion of governance across multiple levels of jurisdiction and decision making (Hooghe and Marks, 2003), including trans-regional and trans-national, regional, national and local levels. The concept emphasises that modern governance generally consists in, and is more flexible when there is, a vertical ‘layering’ of governance processes at different levels.

Participatory governance favours direct public engagement in decision and policy making using a variety of techniques such as referenda, community deliberation, citizen juries or participatory budgeting. The approach can be applied in formal and informal institutional contexts from national to local levels, but is usually associated with devolved decision making (Fung and Wright, 2003; Sarmiento and Tilly, 2018).

Polycentric governance involves multiple centres of decision making with overlapping jurisdictions. While the centres have some degree of autonomy, they also take each other into account, coordinating their actions and seeking to resolve conflicts (Carlisle and Gruby, 2017; Jordan et al., 2018; McGinnis and Ostrom, 2012).

Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE)

A pair of satellites to measure the Earth’s gravity field anomalies from 2002 to 2017. These fields have been used, among other things, to study mass changes of the polar ice sheets and glaciers. See also Marine ice sheet instability (MISI) and Mass balance/budget (of glaciers or ice sheets).

Green infrastructure

The interconnected set of natural and constructed ecological systems, green spaces and other landscape features. It includes planted and indigenous trees, wetlands, parks, green open spaces and original grassland and woodlands, as well as possible building and street level design interventions that incorporate vegetation. Green infrastructure provides services and functions in the same way as conventional infrastructure (Culwick and Bobbins, 2016). See also Ecosystem and Ecosystem services.

Greenhouse gases (GHG)

Gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of radiation emitted by the Earth’s ocean and land surface, by the atmosphere itself, and by clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3) are the primary GHGs in the Earth’s atmosphere. Human-made GHGs include sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs); several of these are also O3-depleting (and are regulated under the Montreal Protocol).

Greenhouse gas removal

Withdrawal of a greenhouse gas (GHG) and/or a precursor from the atmosphere by a sink. See also Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and Negative emissions.

Gross domestic product (GDP)

The sum of gross value added, at purchasers’ prices, by all resident and non-resident producers in the economy, plus any taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products in a country or a geographic region for a given period, normally one year. GDP is calculated without deducting for depreciation of fabricated assets or depletion and degradation of natural resources.

Grounding line

The junction between a glacier or ice sheet and an ice shelf; the place where ice starts to float. This junction normally occurs over a zone, rather than at a line.


The ability of a place to support human life by providing protection from hazards which challenge human survival, and by assuring adequate space, food and freshwater.


The potential occurrence of a natural or human-induced physical event or trend that may cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, as well as damage and loss to property, infrastructure, livelihoods, service provision, ecosystems and environmental resources. See also Disaster, Exposure, Loss and Damage, and losses and damages, Risk and Vulnerability.

Heat wave

A period of abnormally hot weather. Heat waves and warm spells have various and in some cases overlapping definitions. See also Climate extreme (extreme weather or climate event), Extreme weather event and Marine heatwave.


The current interglacial geological epoch, the second of two epochs within the Quaternary period, the preceding being the Pleistocene. The International Commission on Stratigraphy defines the start of the Holocene at 11,700 years before 2000 (ICS, 2019).

Human behaviour

The responses of persons or groups to a particular situation, here likely to relate to climate change. Human behaviour covers the range of actions by individuals, communities, organisations, governments and at the international level.

Adaptation behaviour Human actions that directly or indirectly affect the risks of climate change impacts.

Mitigation behaviour Human actions that directly or indirectly influence mitigation.

See also Adaptation.

Human mobility

The permanent or semi-permanent move by a person for at least one year and involving crossing an administrative, but not necessarily a national, border.

Human rights

Rights that are inherent to all human beings, universal, inalienable, and indivisible, typically expressed and guaranteed by law. They include the right to life, economic, social, and cultural rights, and the right to development and self-determination (UNOHCHR, 2018).

Procedural rights Rights to a legal procedure to enforce substantive rights.

Substantive rights Basic human rights, including the right to the substance of being human such as life itself, liberty and happiness.

See also Equity, Equality, Justice and Well-being.

Human security

A condition that is met when the vital core of human lives is protected, and when people have the freedom and capacity to live with dignity. In the context of climate change, the vital core of human lives includes the universal and culturally specific, material and non- material elements necessary for people to act on behalf of their interests and to live with dignity.

Human system

Any system in which human organisations and institutions play a major role. Often, but not always, the term is synonymous with society or social system. Systems such as agricultural systems, urban systems, political systems, technological systems and economic systems are all human systems in the sense applied in this report.

Hydrological cycle

The cycle in which water evaporates from the ocean and the land surface, is carried over the Earth in atmospheric circulation as water vapour, condenses to form clouds, precipitates over the ocean and land as rain or snow, which on land can be intercepted by trees and vegetation, potentially accumulating as snow or ice, provides runoff on the land surface, infiltrates into soils, recharges groundwater, discharges into streams, and ultimately, flows into the oceans as rivers, polar glaciers and ice sheets, from which it will eventually evaporate again. The various systems involved in the hydrological cycle are usually referred to as hydrological systems.


Large piece of freshwater ice broken off from a glacier or an ice shelf during calving and floating in open water (at least five metres height above sea level). Smaller pieces of floating ice known as ‘bergy bits’ (less than 5 metres above sea level) or ‘growlers’ (less than 2 metres above sea level) can originate from glaciers or ice shelves, or from the breaking up of a large iceberg. Icebergs can also be classified by shape, most commonly being either tabular (steep sides and a flat top) or non-tabular (varying shapes, with domes and spires) (NOAA, 2019). In lakes, icebergs can originate by breaking off shelf ice, which forms through freezing of a lake surface. See also Calving (of glaciers or ice sheets) and Marine ice cliff instability (MICI).

Iceberg calving

See Calving (of glaciers or ice sheets).

Ice core

A cylinder of ice drilled out of a glacier or ice sheet to gain information on past changes in climate and composition of the atmosphere preserved in the ice or in air trapped in ice.

Ice sheet

An ice body originating on land that covers an area of continental size, generally defined as covering >50,000 km2, and that has formed over thousands of years through accumulation and compaction of snow. An ice sheet flows outward from a high central ice plateau with a small average surface slope. The margins usually slope more steeply, and most ice is discharged through fast-flowing ice streams or outlet glaciers, often into the sea or into ice shelves floating on the sea. There are only two ice sheets in the modern world, one on Greenland and one on Antarctica. The latter is divided into the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS), the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) and the Antarctic Peninsula ice sheet. During glacial periods, there were other ice sheets. See also Ablation, Calving (of glaciers or ice sheets), Grounding line, Hydrological cycle, Marine ice cliff instability (MICI), Marine ice sheet instability (MISI) and Mass balance/budget (of glaciers or ice sheets).

Ice shelf

A floating slab of ice originating from land of considerable thickness extending from the coast (usually of great horizontal extent with a very gently sloping surface), resulting from the flow of ice sheets, initially formed by the accumulation of snow, and often filling embayments in the coastline of an ice sheet. Nearly all ice shelves are in Antarctica, where most of the ice discharged into the ocean flows via ice shelves. See also Calving (of glaciers or ice sheets), Glacier, Hydrological cycle, Marine ice cliff instability (MICI) and Marine ice sheet instability (MISI).

Ice stream

A stream of ice with strongly enhanced flow that is part of an ice sheet. It is often separated from surrounding ice by strongly sheared, crevassed margins. See also Outlet glacier.

Impacts (consequences, outcomes)

The consequences of realised risks on natural and human systems, where risks result from the interactions of climate-related hazards (including extreme weather/climate events), exposure, and vulnerability. Impacts generally refer to effects on lives, livelihoods, health and well-being, ecosystems and species, economic, social and cultural assets, services (including ecosystem services), and infrastructure. Impacts may be referred to as consequences or outcomes, and can be adverse or beneficial. See also Adaptation, Loss and Damage, and loss and damages and Natural systems.

Incremental adaptation

See Adaptation.

Indigenous knowledge (IK)

The understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings. For many indigenous peoples, IK informs decision making about fundamental aspects of life, from day-to-day activities to longer term actions. This knowledge is integral to cultural complexes, which also encompass language, systems of classification, resource use practices, social interactions, values, ritual and spirituality. These distinctive ways of knowing are important facets of the world’s cultural diversity (UNESCO, 2018). See also Local knowledge (LK).

Industrial revolution

A period of rapid industrial growth with far-reaching social and economic consequences, beginning in Britain during the second half of the 18th century and spreading to Europe and later to other countries including the United States. The invention of the steam engine was an important trigger of this development. The industrial revolution marks the beginning of a strong increase in the use of fossil fuels, initially coal, and hence emission of carbon dioxide (CO2). See also Pre-industrial.


See Equality.


The ‘prescriptions’, that is the rules, norms and conventions, used by humans ‘to organize all forms of repetitive and structured interactions including those within families, neighborhoods, markets, firms, sports leagues, churches, private associations, and governments at all scales’ (Ostrom, 2005, p. 3). Institutions can be formal, such as laws and policies, or informal, such as traditions, customs, norms and conventions. Individuals and organisations, such as parliaments, regulatory agencies, private firms, and community bodies, develop and act in response to institutions and the incentives they frame. Institutions can guide, constrain and shape human interaction through direct control, incentives and processes of socialisation.

Integrated assessment

A method of analysis that combines results and models from the physical, biological, economic and social sciences and the interactions among these components in a consistent framework to evaluate the status and the consequences of environmental change and the policy responses to it.

(Internal) Displacement (of humans)

The involuntary movement, individually or collectively, of persons from their country or community, notably for reasons of armed conflict, civil unrest,ornaturalorman-madedisasters(adaptedfromIOM,2011). See also Migration (of humans) and Planned relocation (of humans).

Internal variability

See Climate variability.

Invasive species

A species that is not native to a specific location or nearby, lacking natural controls, and has a tendency to rapidly increase in abundance, displacing native species. Invasive species may also damage the human economy or human health. See also Alien (non-native) species, Ecosystem and Endemic species.


A perturbed state of a dynamical system is defined as irreversible on a given timescale if the recovery timescale from this state due to natural processes is significantly longer than the time it takes for the system to reach this perturbed state. In the context of this Special Report, the recovery time scale of interest is hundreds to thousands of years. See also Tipping point.



Radiative forcing

The change in the net, downward minus upward, radiative flux (expressed in W m-2) at the tropopause or top of atmosphere due to a change in an external driver of climate change, such as a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the concentration of volcanic aerosols or in the output of the Sun. The traditional radiative forcing is computed with all tropospheric properties held fixed at their unperturbed values, and after allowing for stratospheric temperatures, if perturbed, to readjust to radiative-dynamical equilibrium. Radiative forcing is called instantaneous if no change in stratospheric temperature is accounted for. The radiative forcing once rapid adjustments are accounted for is termed the effective radiative forcing. Radiative forcing is not to be confused with cloud radiative forcing, which describes an unrelated measure of the impact of clouds on the radiative flux at the top of the atmosphere.

Reasons for concern (RFC)

Elements of a classification framework, first developed in the IPCC Third Assessment Report, which aims to facilitate judgments about what level of climate change may be dangerous (in the language of Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC) by aggregating risks from various sectors, considering hazards, exposures, vulnerabilities, capacities to adapt, and the resulting impacts.

Reference period

The period relative to which anomalies are computed.

Refractory dissolved organic carbon (RDOC)

See Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC).


A relatively large-scale land or ocean area characterised by specific geographical and climatological features. The climate of a land-based region is affected by regional and local scale features like topography, land use characteristics and large water bodies, as well as remote influences from other regions, in addition to global climate conditions. The IPCC defines a set of standard regions for analyses of observed climate trends and climate model projections (see IPCC, 2018a, Figure 3.2; IPCC 2012a).

Regional sea level change

Change in sea level relative to a datum (such as present-day mean sea level) at spatial scales of about 100 km.

Relative sea level

Sea level measured by a tide gauge with respect to the land upon which it is situated. See also Coast, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Local sea level change, Regional sea level change, Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall), Steric sea level change and Anthropogenic subsidence.


See Planned relocation (of humans).


See Measurement/Measurement, reporting and verification (MRV).

Representative concentration pathways (RCPs)

See Pathways.


See Planned relocation (of humans).

Residual risk

The risk that remains following adaptation and risk reduction efforts.


The capacity of interconnected social, economic and ecological systems to cope with a hazardous event, trend or disturbance, responding or reorganising in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure. Resilience is a positive attribute when it maintains capacity for adaptation, learning and/or transformation (Arctic Council, 2016). See also Hazard, Risk and Vulnerability.


In environmental context, restoration involves human interventions to assist the recovery of an ecosystem that has been previously degraded, damaged or destroyed.


The potential for adverse consequences for human or ecological systems, recognising the diversity of values and objectives associated with such systems. In the context of climate change, risks can arise from potential impacts of climate change as well as human responses to climate change. Relevant adverse consequences include those on lives, livelihoods, health and well-being, economic, social and cultural assets and investments, infrastructure, services (including ecosystem services), ecosystems and species.

In the context of climate change impacts, risks result from dynamic interactions between climate-related hazards with the exposure and vulnerability of the affected human or ecological system to the hazards. Hazards, exposure and vulnerability may each be subject to uncertainty in terms of magnitude and likelihood of occurrence, and each may change over time and space due to socioeconomic changes and human decision making.

In the context of climate change responses, risks result from the potential for such responses not achieving the intended objective(s), or from potential trade-offs with, or negative side-effects on, other societal objectives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Risks can arise for example from uncertainty in implementation, effectiveness or outcomes of climate policy, climate-related investments, technology development or adoption, and system transitions.

See also Adaptation, Human systems, Mitigation and Risk management.

Risk assessment

The qualitative and/or quantitative scientific estimation of risks. See also Risk, Risk management and Risk perception.

Risk management

Plans, actions, strategies or policies to reduce the likelihood and/or magnitude of adverse potential consequences, based on assessed or perceived risks. See also Risk assessment and Risk perception.

Risk perception

The subjective judgment that people make about the characteristics and severity of a risk. See also Risk assessment and Risk management.


The flow of water over the surface or through the subsurface, which typically originates from the part of liquid precipitation and/or snow-/ ice-melt that does not evaporate, transpire or refreeze, and returns to water bodies. See also Hydrological cycle.


A plausible description of how the future may develop based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces (e.g., rate of technological change, prices) and relationships. Note that scenarios are neither predictions nor forecasts, but are used to provide a view of the implications of developments and actions. See also Climate projection, Driver, Emission scenario, Mitigation scenario, (Model) ensemble, Pathways and Projection.

Sea ice

Ice found at the sea surface that has originated from the freezing of seawater. Sea ice may be discontinuous pieces (ice floes) moved on the ocean surface by wind and currents (pack ice), or a motionless sheet attached to the coast (land-fast ice). Sea ice concentration is the fraction of the ocean covered by ice. Sea ice less than one year old is called first-year ice. Perennial ice is sea ice that survives at least one summer. It may be subdivided into second-year ice and multi-year ice, where multiyear ice has survived at least two summers. See also Cryosphere.

Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall)

Change to the height of sea level, both globally and locally (relative sea level change) at seasonal, annual, or longer time scales due to (1) a change in ocean volume as a result of a change in the mass of water in the ocean (e.g., due to melt of glaciers and ice sheets), (2) changes in ocean volume as a result of changes in ocean water density (e.g., expansion under warmer conditions), (3) changes in the shape of the ocean basins and changes in the Earth’s gravitational and rotational fields, and (4) local subsidence or uplift of the land. Global mean sea level change resulting from change in the mass of the ocean is called barystatic. The amount of barystatic sea level change due to the addition or removal of a mass of water is called its sea level equivalent (SLE). Sea level changes, both globally and locally, resulting from changes in water density are called steric. Density changes induced by temperature changes only are called thermosteric, while density changes induced by salinity changes are called halosteric. Barystatic and steric sea level changes do not include the effect of changes in the shape of ocean basins induced by the change in the ocean mass and its distribution. See also Anthropogenic subsidence, Local sea level change, Regional sea level change and Steric sea level change.

Sea level equivalent (SLE)

The SLE of a mass of water, ice, or water vapour is that mass, converted to a volume using a density of 1000 kg m-3, and divided by the present-day ocean surface area of 3.625 × 1014 m2. Thus, 362.5 Gt of water mass added to the ocean correspond to 1 mm of global mean sea level rise. However, more accurate estimates of SLE must account for additional processes affecting mean sea level rise, such as shoreline migration, changes in ocean area, and for vertical land movements. See also Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall).

Sea level rise (SLR)

See Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall).

Sea surface temperature (SST)

The subsurface bulk temperature in the top few metres of the ocean, measured by ships, buoys, and drifters. From ships, measurements of water samples in buckets were mostly switched in the 1940s to samples from engine intake water. Satellite measurements of skin temperature (uppermost layer; a fraction of a millimetre thick) in the infrared or the top centimetre or so in the microwave are also used, but must be adjusted to be compatible with the bulk temperature. See also Global mean surface temperature (GMST).

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 outlines seven clear targets and four priorities for action to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risks. The voluntary, non-binding agreement recognises that the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including local government, the private sector and other stakeholders, with the aim for the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries.


The long-term removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) or other forms of carbon from the atmosphere, with secure storage on climatically significant time scales (decadal to century). The period of storage needs to be known for climate modelling and carbon accounting purposes. See also Blue carbon, Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), Sink and Uptake.

Shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs)

See Pathways.

Shelf seas

Relatively shallow water covering the shelf of continents or around islands. The limit of shelf seas is conventionally considered as 200 m water depth at the continental shelf edge, where there is usually a steep slope to the deep ocean floor. During glacial periods, most shelf seas are lost since they become land as the build-up of ice sheets caused a decrease of global sea level. See also Coasts, Glacier and Ice shelf.

Short-lived climate forcers (SLCF)

A set of compounds that are primarily composed of those with short lifetimes in the atmosphere compared to well-mixed greenhouse gases (GHGs), and are also referred to as near-term climate forcers. This set of compounds includes methane (CH4), which is also a well-mixed greenhouse gas, as well as ozone (O3) and aerosols, or their precursors, and some halogenated species that are not well-mixed GHGs. These compounds do not accumulate in the atmosphere at decadal to centennial timescales, and so their effect on climate is predominantly in the first decade after their emission, although their changes can still induce long-term climate effects such as sea level change. Their effect can be cooling or warming. A subset of exclusively warming SLCFs is referred to as short-lived climate pollutants. See also Forcing and Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall).


Any process, activity or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas (GHG), an aerosol or a precursor of a GHG from the atmosphere (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, Article 1.8). See also Blue carbon, Sequestration and Uptake.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

as recognised by the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, are a distinct group of developing countries facing specific social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities (UN-OHRLLS, 2011). They were recognised as a special case both for their environment and development at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. Fifty-eight countries and territories are presently classified as SIDS by the UN-OHRLLS, with 38 being UN member states and 20 being Non-UN-Members or Associate Members of the Regional Commissions (UN-OHRLLS, 2018).

Social costs

See Private costs.

Social-ecological system

An integrated system that includes human societies and ecosystems, in which humans are part of nature. The functions of such a system arise from the interactions and interdependence of the social and ecological subsystems. The system’s structure is characterised by reciprocal feedbacks, emphasising that humans must be seen as a part of, not apart from, nature (Arctic Council, 2016; Berkes and Folke, 1998).

Social learning

A process of social interaction through which people learn new behaviours, capacities, values and attitudes.

Soil moisture

Water stored in the soil in liquid or frozen form. Root-zone soil moisture is of most relevance for plant activity. See also Drought and Permafrost.

Solar radiation management

See Solar radiation modification (SRM).

Solar radiation modification (SRM)

The intentional modification of the Earth’s shortwave radiative budget with the aim of reducing warming. Artificial injection of stratospheric aerosols, marine cloud brightening, and land surface albedo modification are examples of proposed SRM methods. SRM does not fall within the definitions of mitigation and adaptation (IPCC, 2012b, p. 2). Note that in the literature, SRM is also referred to as solar radiation management, or albedo enhancement. See also Geoengineering.

Solubility pump

A physicochemical process that transports dissolved inorganic carbon from the ocean’s surface to its interior. The solubility pump is primarily driven by the solubility of carbon dioxide (CO2) (with more CO2 dissolving in colder water) and the large-scale, thermohaline patterns of ocean circulation. See also Biological (carbon) pump and Dissolved inorganic carbon.


Any process or activity which releases a greenhouse gas (GHG), an aerosol or a precursor of a GHG into the atmosphere (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, Article 1.9). See also Sink.

Southern Ocean

The ocean region encircling Antarctica that connects the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans together, allowing inter-ocean exchange. This region is the main source of much of the deep water of the world’s ocean and also provides the primary return pathway for this deep water to the surface (Marshall and Speer, 2012; Toggweiler and Samuels, 1995). The drawing up of deep waters and the subsequent transport into the ocean interior has major consequences for the global heat, nutrient, and carbon balances, as well as the Antarctic cryosphere and marine ecosystems.

Stabilisation (of GHG or CO2-equivalent concentration)

A state in which the atmospheric concentration of one greenhouse gas (GHG) (e.g., carbon dioxide, CO2) or of a CO2-equivalent basket of GHGs (or a combination of GHGs and aerosols) remains constant over time. See also Atmosphere.

Steric sea level change

Change in sea level due to thermal expansion and salinity variations. Thermal expansion refers to the increase in volume (and decrease in density) that results from warming water. See also Anthropogenic subsidence, Coast, Local sea level change, Regional sea level change, Relative sea level, Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Storm surge

The temporary increase, at a particular locality, in the height of the sea due to extreme meteorological conditions (low atmospheric pressure and/or strong winds). The storm surge is defined as being the excess above the level expected from the tidal variation alone at that time and place. See also Extreme weather/climate event.


Process of forming of layers of (ocean) water with different properties such as salinity, density and temperature that act as barrier

for water mixing. The strengthening of near-surface stratification generally results in warmer surface waters, decreased oxygen levels in deeper water, and intensification of ocean acidification (OA) in the upper ocean. See also Ocean deoxygenation.


See Anthropogenic subsidence.


involves ensuring the persistence of natural and human systems, implying the continuous functioning of ecosystems, the conservation of high biodiversity, the recycling of natural resources and, in the human sector, successful application of justice and equity. See also Natural systems and Sustainable development (SD).

Sustainable development (SD)

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987) and balances social, economic and environmental concerns. See also Development pathways (under Pathways), Sustainability and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The 17 global goals for development for all countries established by the United Nations through a participatory process and elaborated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN, 2015), including ending poverty and hunger; ensuring health and well-being, education, gender equality, clean water and energy, and decent work; building and ensuring resilient and sustainable infrastructure, cities and consumption; reducing inequalities; protecting land and water ecosystems; promoting peace, justice and partnerships; and taking urgent action on climate change. See also Resilience and Sustainability.

Sustainable development pathways (SDPs)

See Pathways.


A statistical association between climate variables at widely separated, geographically-fixed spatial locations. Teleconnections are caused by large spatial structures such as basin-wide coupled modes of ocean-atmosphere variability, Rossby wave-trains, mid-latitude jets, and storm tracks.

Temperature overshoot

The temporary exceedance of a specified level of global warming, such as 1.5oC. Overshoot implies a peak followed by a decline in global warming, achieved through anthropogenic removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) exceeding remaining CO2 emissions globally. See also Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and Emission pathways (under Pathpays).


Processes, such as collapse, subsidence and erosion, by which characteristic landforms result from the thawing of ice-rich permafrost (Harris et al., 1988).

Time of Emergence (ToE)

Time when a specific anthropogenic signal related to climate change is statistically detected to emerge from the background noise of natural climate variability in a reference period, for a specific region (Hawkins and Sutton, 2012).

Tipping point

A level of change in system properties beyond which a system reorganises, often in a non-linear manner, and does not return to the initial state even if the drivers of the change are abated. For the climate system, the term refers to a critical threshold at which global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state. Tipping points are also used when referring to impact: the term can imply that an impact tipping point is (about to be) reached in a natural or human system. See also Abrupt climate change, Adaptation, Irreversibility and Natural Systems.


A change in the fundamental attributes of natural and human systems.

Societal (social) transformation A profound and often deliberate shift initiated by communities toward sustainability, facilitated by changes in individual and collective values and behaviours, and a fairer balance of political, cultural and institutional power in society.

Transformative change A system-wide change that requires more than technological change through consideration of social and economic factors that with technology can bring about rapid change at scale.

See also Natural systems.

Transformational adaptation

See Adaptation.

Transformative change

See Transformation.


The process of changing from one state or condition to another in a given period of time. Transition can be in individuals, firms, cities, regions and nations, and can be based on incremental or transformative change.

Tropical cyclone

The general term for a strong, cyclonic-scale disturbance that originates over tropical oceans. Distinguished from weaker systems (often named tropical disturbances or depressions) by exceeding a threshold wind speed. A tropical storm is a tropical cyclone with one-minute average surface winds between 18 and 32 m s-1. Beyond 32 m s-1, a tropical cyclone is called a hurricane, typhoon or cyclone, depending on geographic location. See also Extratropical cyclone.




A state of incomplete knowledge that can result from a lack of information or from disagreement about what is known or even knowable. It may have many types of sources, from imprecision in the data to ambiguously defined concepts or terminology, incomplete understanding of critical processes, or uncertain projections of human behaviour. Uncertainty can therefore be represented by quantitative measures (e.g., a probability density function) or by qualitative statements (e.g., reflecting the judgment of a team of experts) (see IPCC, 2004; Mastrandrea et al., 2010; Moss and Schneider, 2000). See also Agreement, Confidence, Deep Uncertainty and Likelihood.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The UNFCCC was adopted in May 1992 and opened for signature at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It entered into force in March 1994 and as of May 2018 had 197 Parties (196 States and the European Union). The Convention’s ultimate objective is the ‘stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. The provisions of the Convention are pursued and implemented by two treaties: the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.


The transfer of substances (such as carbon) or energy (e.g., heat) from one compartment of a system to another; for example, in the Earth system from the atmosphere to the ocean or to the land. See also Sequestration and Sink.


The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt. See also Adaptation, Exposure, Hazard and Risk.

Water cycle

See Hydrological cycle.


A state of existence that fulfils various human needs, including material living conditions and quality of life, as well as the ability to pursue one’s goals, to thrive, and feel satisfied with one’s life. Ecosystem well-being refers to the ability of ecosystems to maintain their diversity and quality. See also Biodiversity, Climate-resilient development pathways (CRDPs), Human rights and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).



Deep uncertainty

A situation of deep uncertainty exists when experts or stakeholders do not know or cannot agree on: (1) appropriate conceptual models that describe relationships among key driving forces in a system; (2) the probability distributions used to represent uncertainty about key variables and parameters; and/or (3) how to weigh and value desirable alternative outcomes (Lempert et al., 2003).


Conversion of forest to non-forest. [Note: For a discussion of the term forest and related terms such as afforestation, reforestation, and deforestation in the context of reporting and accounting Article 3.3 and 3.4 activities under the Kyoto Protocol, see 2013 Revised Supplementary Methods and Good Practice Guidance Arising from the Kyoto Protocol].


See Detection and attribution.

Detection and attribution

Detection of change is defined as the process of demonstrating that climate or a system affected by climate has changed in some defined statistical sense, without providing a reason for that change. An identified change is detected in observations if its likelihood of occurrence by chance due to internal variability alone is determined to be small, for example, <10%. Attribution is defined as the process of evaluating the relative contributions of multiple causal factors to a change or event with a formal assessment of confidence.

Developed/developing countries (Industrialised/ developed/developing countries)

There is a diversity of approaches for categorizing countries on the basis of their level of development, and for defining terms such as industrialised, developed, or developing. Several categorisations are used in this Special Report. (1) In the United Nations (UN) system, there is no established convention for the designation of developed and developing countries or areas. (2) The UN Statistics Division specifies developed and developing regions based on common practice. In addition, specific countries are designated as least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing states (SIDS), and transition economies. Many countries appear in more than one of these categories. (3) The World Bank uses income as the main criterion for classifying countries as low, lower middle, upper middle, and high income. (4) The UN Development Programme (UNDP) aggregates indicators for life expectancy, educational attainment, and income into a single composite Human Development Index (HDI) to classify countries as low, medium, high, or very high human development.

Development pathways

See Pathways.


A ‘serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts’ (UNISDR, 2017). See also Disaster risk management (DRM), Exposure, Hazard, Risk and Vulnerability.

Disaster risk management (DRM)

Processes for designing, implementing, and evaluating strategies, policies, and measures to improve the understanding of current and future disaster risk, foster disaster risk reduction and transfer, and promote continuous improvement in disaster preparedness, prevention and protection, response, and recovery practices, with the explicit purpose of increasing human security, well-being, quality of life, and sustainable development (SD).

Discharge (of ice)

Rate of the flow of ice through a vertical section of a glacier perpendicular to the direction of the flow of ice. Often used to refer to the loss of mass at marine-terminating glacier fronts (mostly calving of icebergs and submarine melt), or to mass flowing across the grounding line of a floating ice shelf. See also Mass balance/ budget (of glaciers or ice sheets).


A mathematical operation that aims to make monetary (or other) amounts received or expended at different times (years) comparable across time. The discounter uses a fixed or possibly time-varying discount rate from year to year that makes future value worth less today (if the discount rate is positive). The choice of discount rate(s) is debated as it is a judgement based on hidden and/or explicit values.

Discount rate

See Discounting.


See (Internal) Displacement (of humans).

Dissolved inorganic carbon

The combined total of different types of non-organic carbon in (seawater) solution, comprising carbonate (CO32-), bicarbonate (HCO3-), carbonic acid (H2CO3) and carbon dioxide (CO2).

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC)

Organic carbon types – for example, in the ocean – operationally separated by filtration. Filter pore size typically is 0.45 micrometres but may vary between 0.22 and 0.7 micrometres, with smaller carbon types in the solution (DOC) and larger carbon types (POC) being filtered out. In the global ocean, the ratio of DOC and POC is approximately 20:1. DOC can be further classified as labile DOC (LDOC) and refractory DOC (RDOC; also known as recalcitrant DOC). In the global ocean, DOC is mainly (>90%) comprised of RDOC. RDOC can be generated by microbial carbon pump processes, and is able to persist for hundreds to thousands of years due to its resistance to microbial decomposition. LDOC occurs mainly in surface seawaters and is readily available for biological utilisation or decomposition. See also Carbon cycle.


A method that derives local- to regional-scale (up to 100 km) information from larger-scale models or data analyses. Two main methods exist: dynamical downscaling and empirical/statistical downscaling. The dynamical method uses the output of regional climate models, global models with variable spatial resolution, or high-resolution global models. The empirical/statistical methods are based on observations and develop statistical relationships that link the large-scale atmospheric variables with local/regional climate variables. In all cases, the quality of the driving model remains an important limitation on quality of the downscaled information. The two methods can be combined, for example, applying empirical/ statistical downscaling to the output of a regional climate model, consisting of a dynamical downscaling of a global climate model.


Any natural or human-induced factor that directly or indirectly causes a change in a system (adapted from MA, 2005). See also Forcing.


A period of abnormally dry weather long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance. Drought is a relative term; therefore any discussion in terms of precipitation deficit must refer to the particular precipitation-related activity that is under discussion. For example, shortage of precipitation during the growing season impinges on crop production or ecosystem function in general (due to soil moisture drought, also termed agricultural drought) and during the runoff and percolation season primarily affects water supplies (hydrological drought). Storage changes in soil moisture and groundwater are also affected by increases in actual evapotranspiration in addition to reductions in precipitation. A period with an abnormal precipitation deficit is defined as a meteorological drought. See also Heatwave and Hydrological cycle.

Early warning systems (EWS)

The set of technical and institutional capacities to forecast, predict, and communicate timely and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities, managed ecosystems, and organisations threatened by a hazard to prepare to act promptly and appropriately to reduce the possibility of harm or loss. Dependent upon context, EWS may draw upon scientific and/or indigenous knowledge, and other knowledge types. EWS are also considered for ecological applications, for example, conservation, where the organisation itself is not threatened by hazard but the ecosystem under conservation is (e.g., coral bleaching alerts), in agriculture (e.g., warnings of heavy rainfall, drought, ground frost and hailstorms) and in fisheries (e.g., warnings of storm, storm surge and tsunamis) (UNISDR 2009; IPCC, 2012a). See also Disaster, Institutions, Local knowledge and Loss and Damage, and losses and damages.

Earth system model (ESM)

A coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model (AOGCM) in which a representation of the carbon cycle is included, allowing for interactive calculation of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) or compatible emissions. Additional components (e.g., atmospheric chemistry, ice sheets, dynamic vegetation, nitrogen cycle, but also urban or crop models) may be included. See also Climate model.


A functional unit consisting of living organisms, their non-living environment and the interactions within and between them. The components included in a given ecosystem and its spatial boundaries depend on the purpose for which the ecosystem is defined: in some cases they are relatively sharp, while in others they are diffuse. Ecosystem boundaries can change over time. Ecosystems are nested within other ecosystems and their scale can range from very small to the entire biosphere. In the current era, most ecosystems either contain people as key organisms, or are influenced by the effects of human activities in their environment. See also Ecosystem services.

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA)

See Adaptation.

Ecosystem services

Ecological processes or functions having monetary or non-monetary value to individuals or society at large. These are frequently classified as (1) supporting services such as productivity or biodiversity maintenance, (2) provisioning services such as food or fibre, (3) regulating services such as climate regulation or carbon sequestration and (4) cultural services such as tourism or spiritual and aesthetic appreciation. See also Ecosystem and Nature’s Contribution to People (NCP).

Elevation-dependent warming (EDW)

Characteristic of many regions where mountains are located, in which past and/or future surface air temperature changes vary neither uniformly nor linearly with elevation. In many cases, warming is enhanced within or above a certain elevation range.

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

The term El Niño was initially used to describe a warm-water current that periodically flows along the coast of Ecuador and Peru, disrupting the local fishery. It has since become identified with warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean east of the dateline. This oceanic event is associated with a fluctuation of a global- scale tropical and subtropical surface pressure pattern called the Southern Oscillation. This coupled atmosphere-ocean phenomenon, with preferred time scales of two to about seven years, is known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It is often measured by the surface pressure anomaly difference between Tahiti and Darwin and/or the sea surface temperatures (SST) in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. During an ENSO event, the prevailing trade winds weaken, reducing upwelling and altering ocean currents such that the SSTs warm, further weakening the trade winds. This phenomenon has a great impact on the wind, SST and precipitation patterns in the tropical Pacific. It has climatic effects throughout the Pacific region and in many other parts of the world, through global teleconnections. The cold phase of ENSO is called La Niña. See also Climate.

Emission pathways

See Pathways.

Emission scenario

A plausible representation of the future development of emissions of substances that are radiatively active (e.g., greenhouse gases, or aerosols) based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about driving forces (such as demographic and socioeconomic development, technological change, energy and land use) and their key relationships. Concentration scenarios, derived from emission scenarios, are often used as input to a climate model to compute climate projections. See also Driver, Forcing, Mitigation scenario, Radiative forcing, Representative concentration pathways (RCPs, under Pathways), Shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs, under Pathways) and Scenario.

Endemic species

Plants and animals that are only found in one geographic region. See also Alien (non-native) species, Ecosystem and Invasive species.

Enhanced weathering

A proposed method to increase the natural rate of removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere using silicate and carbonate rocks. The active surface area of these minerals is increased by grinding, before they are actively added to soil, beaches or the open ocean. See also Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), Geoengineering and Sequestration.


See (Model) Ensemble.


A principle that ascribes equal worth to all human beings, including equal opportunities, rights, and obligations, irrespective of origins.

Inequality Uneven opportunities and social positions, and processes of discrimination within a group or society, based on gender, class, ethnicity, age and (dis)ability, often produced by uneven development. Income inequality refers to gaps between highest and lowest income earners within a country and between countries.

See also Equity.

Equilibrium climate sensitivity

See Climate sensitivity.


The principle of being fair and impartial, and a basis for understanding how the impacts and responses to climate change, including costs and benefits, are distributed in and by society in more or less equal ways. Often aligned with ideas of equality, fairness and justice and applied with respect to equity in the responsibility for, and distribution of, climate impacts and policies across society, generations, and gender, and in the sense of who participates and controls the processes of decision making.

Distributive equity Equity in the consequences, outcomes, costs and benefits of actions or policies. In the case of climate change or climate policies for different people, places and countries, including equity aspects of sharing burdens and benefits for mitigation and adaptation.

Gender equity Equity between women and men with regard to their rights, resources and opportunities. In the case of climate change, gender equity recognises that women are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and may be disadvantaged in the process and outcomes of climate policy.

Intergenerational equity Equity between generations that, in the context of climate change, acknowledges that the effects of past and present emissions, vulnerabilities and policies impose costs and benefits for people in the future and of different age groups.

Procedural equity Equity in the process of decision making including recognition and inclusiveness in participation, equal representation, bargaining power, voice and equitable access to knowledge and resources to participate.


Data and information used in the scientific process to establish findings. In this Special Report, the degree of evidence reflects the amount, quality, and consistency of scientific/technical information on which the Lead Authors are basing their findings. See also Agreement, Confidence, Likelihood and Uncertainty.

Evolutionary adaptation

See Adaptation.


The presence of people; livelihoods; species or ecosystems; environmental functions, services, and resources; infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected. See also Hazard, Risk and Vulnerability.

Extratropical cyclone

Any cyclonic-scale storm that is not a tropical cyclone. Usually refers to a middle- or high-latitude migratory storm system formed in regions of large horizontal temperature variations. Sometimes called extratropical storm or extratropical low.

Extreme event

See Extreme weather/climate event.

Extreme sea level

See Storm surge.

Extreme weather/climate event

An extreme weather event is an event that is rare at a particular place and time of year. Definitions of ‘rare’ vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile of a probability density function estimated from observations. By definition, the characteristics of what is called extreme weather may vary from place to place in an absolute sense. When a pattern of extreme weather persists for some time, such as a season, it may be classified as an extreme climate event, especially if it yields an average or total that is itself extreme (e.g., high temperature, drought, or total rainfall over a season). See also Heat wave and Climate extreme (extreme weather or climate event).


Impartial and just treatment without favouritism or discrimination in which each person is considered of equal worth with equal opportunity. See also Equity and Equality.


The degree to which climate goals and response options are considered possible and/or desirable. Feasibility depends on geophysical, ecological, technological, economic, social and institutional conditions for change. Conditions underpinning feasibility are dynamic, spatially variable, and may vary between different groups.

Economic feasibility An indicator of the benefits and costs of a climate adaptation or response, often expressed as a ratio of the two, used in order to judge whether it is possible or wise to proceed with the option.

Social and institutional feasibility Institutional feasibility has two key parts: (1) the extent of administrative workload, both for public authorities and for regulated entities, and (2) the extent to which the policy is viewed as legitimate, gains acceptance, is adopted, and is implemented.


See Climate feedback.


Snow that has survived at least one ablation season but has not been transformed to glacier ice. Its pore space is at least partially interconnected, allowing air and water to circulate. Firn densities typically are 400–830 kg m–3. See also Cryosphere.


The overflowing of the normal confines of a stream or other water body, or the accumulation of water over areas that are not normally submerged. Floods can be caused by unusually heavy rain, for example during storms and cyclones. Floods include river (fluvial) floods, flash floods, urban floods, rain (pluvial) floods, sewer floods, coastal floods and glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). See also Runoff.

Food security

A situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life (FAO, 2001). [Note: Whilst the term ‘food security’ explicitly includes nutrition within it ‘dietary needs … for an active and healthy life’, in the past the term has sometimes privileged the supply of energy, especially to the hungry. Thus, the term ‘food and nutrition security’ is often used (with the same definition as food security) to emphasise that the term food covers both energy and nutrition (FAO, 2009).] See also Food system and Malnutrition.

Food system

All the elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food, and the output of these activities, including socioeconomic and environmental outcomes (HLPE, 2017). [Note: Whilst there is a global food system (encompassing the totality of global production and consumption), each location’s food system is unique, being defined by that place’s mix of food produced locally, nationally, regionally or globally]. See also Food security.


The driver of a change in the climate system, usually through an imbalance between the radiative energy received by and leaving the Earth’s surface. See also Radiative forcing and Short-lived climate forcers (SLCF).


A vegetation type dominated by trees. Many definitions of the term forest are in use throughout the world, reflecting wide differences in biogeophysical conditions, social structure and economics. [Note: For a discussion of the term forest and related terms such as afforestation, reforestation and deforestation, see the IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (IPCC, 2000). See also information provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2013) and the Report on Definitions and Methodological Options to Inventory Emissions from Direct Human-induced Degradation of Forests and Devegetation of Other Vegetation Types (IPCC, 2003)].

Fossil fuels

Carbon-based fuels from fossil hydrocarbon deposits, including coal, oil and natural gas.

Framework Convention on Climate Change

See United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Frozen ground

Soil or rock in which part or all of the pore water consists of ice. See also Permafrost.

Functional diversity

‘The range and value of those species and organismal traits that influence ecosystem functioning’ (Tilman 2001). See also Biodiversity.




is concerned with ensuring that people get what is due to them setting out the moral or legal principles of fairness and equity in the way people are treated, often based on the ethics and values of society.

Climate justice Justice that links development and human rights to achieve a human-centred approach to addressing climate change, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impacts equitably and fairly (MRFJC, 2018).

Distributive justice Justice in the allocation of economic and non-economic costs and benefits across society.

Inter-generational justice Justice in the distribution of economic and non-economic costs and benefits across generations.

Procedural justice Justice in the way outcomes are brought about including who participates and is heard in the processes of decision making.

Social justice Just or fair relations within society that seek to address the distribution of wealth, access to resources, opportunity, and support according to principles of justice and fairness.

See also Equity and Human rights.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty adopted in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, at the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP3) to the UNFCCC. It contains legally binding commitments, in addition to those included in the UNFCCC. Countries included in Annex B of the Protocol (mostly OECD countries and countries with economies in transition) agreed to reduce their anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)) by at least 5% below 1990 levels in the first commitment period (2008–2012). The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005 and as of May 2018 had 192 Parties (191 States and the European Union). A second commitment period was agreed in December 2012 at COP18, known as the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol, in which a new set of Parties committed to reduce GHG emissions by at least 18% below 1990 levels in the period from 2013 to 2020. However, as of May 2018, the Doha Amendment had not received sufficient ratifications to enter into force. See also Anthropogenic and Paris Agreement.

Labile dissolved organic carbon (LDOC)

See Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC).

La Niña

See El Niño-Southern Oscillation.


The terrestrial portion of the biosphere that comprises the natural resources (soil, near-surface air, vegetation and other biota, and water), the ecological processes, topography, and human settlements and infrastructure that operate within that system (FAO, 2007; UNCCD, 1994). See also Ecosystem services and Land use.

Land management

Sum of land use practices (e.g., sowing, fertilising, weeding, harvesting, thinning and clear-cutting) that take place within broader land use categories (Pongratz et al., 2018).

Land restoration

The process of assisting the recovery of land from a degraded state (IPBES, 2018; McDonald et al. 2015).

Land use

The total of arrangements, activities and inputs applied to a parcel of land. The term ‘land use’ is also used in the sense of the social and economic purposes for which land is managed (e.g., grazing, timber extraction, conservation and city dwelling). In national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, land use is classified according to the IPCC land use categories of forest land, cropland, grassland, wetlands, settlements, and other lands (see the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National GHG Inventories for details). See also Land management.


The chance of a specific outcome occurring, where this might be estimated probabilistically. Likelihood is expressed in this Special Report using a standard terminology (Mastrandrea et al., 2010). See Section 1.9.2 in this Special Report for the list of likelihood qualifiers used. See also Agreement, Evidence, Confidence and Uncertainty.


The resources used and the activities undertaken in order for people to live. Livelihoods are usually determined by the entitlements and assets to which people have access. Such assets can be categorised as human, social, natural, physical, or financial.

Local knowledge (LK)

The understandings and skills developed by individuals and populations, specific to the places where they live. Local knowledge informs decision making about fundamental aspects of life, from day-to-day activities to longer term actions. This knowledge is a key element of the social and cultural systems which influence observations of and responses to climate change; it also informs governance decisions (UNESCO, 2018). See also Indigenous knowledge (IK).

Local sea level change

Change in sea level relative to a datum (such as present-day mean sea level) at spatial scales smaller than 10km. See also Regional sea level change and Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall).


A situation in which the future development of a system, including infrastructure, technologies, investments, institutions and behavioural norms, is determined or constrained (‘locked in’) by historic developments.

Loss and Damage, and losses and damages

Research has taken the term ‘Loss and Damage’ (capitalised letters) to refer to political debate under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) following the establishment of the Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage in 2013, which is to ‘address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.’ The expression ‘losses and damages’ (lowercase letters) has been taken to refer broadly to harm from (observed) impacts and (projected) risks (Mechler et al., 2018).




Maladaptive actions (Maladaptation)

Actions that may lead to increased risk of adverse climate-related outcomes, including via increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increased vulnerability to climate change, or diminished welfare, now or in the future. Maladaptation is usually an unintended consequence. See also Adaptation and Adaptive capacity.

Marine heatwave

A period of extreme warm near-sea surface temperature (SST) that persists for days to months and can extend up to thousands of kilometres. See also Climate extreme (extreme weather or climate event), Extreme weather event and Heat wave.

Marine ice cliff instability (MICI)

A hypothetic mechanism of an ice cliff failure. In case a marine-terminated ice sheet loses its buttressing ice shelf, an ice cliff can be exposed. If the exposed ice cliff is tall enough (about 800 m of the total height, or about 100 m of the above-water part), the stresses at the cliff face exceed the strength of the ice, and the cliff fails structurally in repeated calving events. See also Iceberg and Marine ice sheet instability (MISI).

Marine ice sheet instability (MISI)

A mechanism of irreversible (on the decadal to centennial time scale) retreat of a grounding line for the marine-terminating glaciers, in case the glacier bed slopes towards the ice sheet interior. See also Hydrological cycle, Ice shelf, Marine ice cliff instability (MICI) and Sea ice.

Mass balance/budget (of glaciers or ice sheets)

Difference between the mass input (accumulation) and the mass loss (ablation) of an ice body (e.g., a glacier or ice sheet) over a stated time period, which is often a year or a season. Surface mass balance refers to the difference between surface accumulation and surface ablation. See also Calving (of glaciers or ice sheets) and Discharge (of ice).

Measurement, reporting and verification (MRV).

Measurement ‘Processes of data collection over time, providing basic datasets, including associated accuracy and precision, for the range of relevant variables. Possible data sources are field measurements, field observations, detection through remote sensing and interviews’ (UN REDD, 2009).

Reporting ‘The process of formal reporting of assessment results to the UNFCCC, according to predetermined formats and according to established standards, especially the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Guidelines and GPG (Good Practice Guidance)’ (UN REDD, 2009).

Verification ‘The process of formal verification of reports, for example, the established approach to verify national communications and national inventory reports to the UNFCCC’ (UN REDD, 2009).

Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC)

Meridional (north-south) overturning circulation in the ocean quantified by zonal (east-west) sums of mass transports in depth or density layers. In the North Atlantic, away from the subpolar regions, the MOC (which is in principle an observable quantity) is often identified with the thermohaline circulation (THC), which is a conceptual and incomplete interpretation. It must be borne in mind that the MOC is also driven by wind, and can also include shallower overturning cells such as occur in the upper ocean in the tropics and subtropics, in which warm (light) waters moving poleward are transformed to slightly denser waters and subducted equatorward at deeper levels.

Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) The main current system in the South and North Atlantic Oceans. AMOC transports warm upper-ocean water northwards, and cold, deep water southwards, as part of the global ocean circulation system. Changes in the strength of AMOC can affect other components of the climate system.

Methane (CH4)

One of the six greenhouse gases (GHGs) to be mitigated under the Kyoto Protocol and is the major component of natural gas and associated with all hydrocarbon fuels. Under future global warming, there is risk of increased methane emissions from thawing permafrost, coastal wetlands and sub-sea gas hydrates. See also Mitigation.

Microbial carbon pump

Microbial processes that transform organic carbon from rapidly-degradable states to biologically-unavailable forms, resulting in long-term carbon storage in the ocean. The unavailable states of organic carbon can be due to their intrinsic refractory nature, or to extremely low concentrations of each of the diverse individual molecules. The microbial carbon pump can take place at any depth in the water column and is the principal mechanism generating and sustaining refractory dissolved organic carbon (RDOC) in the ocean. See also Biological (carbon) pump, Blue carbon and Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC).


See Migration (of humans).

Migration (of humans)

‘Movement of a person or a group of persons, either across an international border, or within a State. It is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes migration of refugees, displaced persons, economic migrants, and persons moving for other purposes, including family reunification’ (IOM, 2018).

Migrant ‘Any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (1) the person’s legal status; (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; (3) what the causes for the movement are; or (4) what the length of the stay is’ (IOM, 2018).

See also (Internal) Displacement (of humans).

Mitigation (of climate change)

A human intervention to reduce emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases (GHG).

Mitigation measures In climate policy, mitigation measures are technologies, processes or practices that contribute to mitigation, for example renewable energy technologies, waste minimisation processes, public transport commuting practices. See also Mitigation option.

Mitigation option A technology or practice that reduces GHG emissions or enhances sinks.

Mitigation scenario A plausible description of the future that describes how the (studied) system responds to the implementation of mitigation policies and measures.

See also Emission scenario.


See Human mobility.

(Model) Ensemble

A group of parallel model simulations characterising historical climate conditions, climate predictions, or climate projections. Variation of the results across the ensemble members may give an estimate of modelling-based 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. Perturbed parameter ensembles, in which model parameters are varied in a systematic manner, aim to assess the uncertainty resulting from internal model specifications within a single model. Remaining sources of uncertainty unaddressed with model ensembles are related to systematic model errors or biases, which may be assessed from systematic comparisons of model simulations with observations wherever available. See also Projection.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E)

Mechanisms put in place at national to local scales to respectively monitor and evaluate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and/or adapt to the impacts of climate change with the aim of systematically identifying, characterising and assessing progress over time. See also Adaptation.

Multi-level governance

See Governance.

Narratives (in the context of scenarios)

Qualitative descriptions of plausible future world evolutions, describing the characteristics, general logic and developments underlying a particular quantitative set of scenarios. Narratives are also referred to in the literature as ‘storylines’. See also Pathways.

Nationally determined contributions (NDCs)

A term used under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) whereby a country that has joined the Paris Agreement outlines its plans for reducing its emissions. Some countries’ NDCs also address how they will adapt to climate change impacts, and what support they need from, or will provide to, other countries to adopt low-carbon pathways and to build climate resilience. According to Article 4 paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement, each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that it intends to achieve.

Natural systems

The dynamic physical and biological components of the environment that would operate in the absence of human impacts. Most, if not all, natural systems are also now affected by human activities to some degree.

Nature’s contributions to people (NCP)

‘Allthecontributions,bothpositiveandnegative,oflivingnature(i.e., diversity of organisms, ecosystems, and their associated ecological and evolutionary processes) to the quality of life for people. Beneficial contributions from nature include such things as food provision, water purification, flood control, and artistic inspiration, whereas detrimental contributions include disease transmission and predation that damages people or their assets. Many NCP may be perceived as benefits or detriments depending on the cultural, temporal or spatial context (Díaz et al., 2018).’ See also Biodiversity and Ecosystem services.

Near-surface permafrost

See Permafrost.

Negative emissions

Removal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere by deliberate human activities, that is, in addition to the removal that would occur via natural carbon cycle processes. See also Anthropogenic, Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and Greenhouse gas removal (GGR).

Net-negative emissions

A situation of net-negative emissions is achieved when, as result of human activities, more greenhouse gases (GHGs) are removed from the atmosphere than are emitted into it. Where multiple GHGs are involved, the quantification of negative emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon). See also Greenhouse gas removal (GGR), Net-zero emissions and Net-zero CO2 emissions.

Net-zero CO2 emissions

Net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are achieved when anthropogenic CO2 emissions are balanced by anthropogenic CO2 removals over a specified period. See also Carbon dioxide removal (CDR), G

Net-zero emissions

Net-zero emissions are achieved when anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. Where multiple GHGs are involved, the quantification of net-zero emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon). See also Greenhouse gas removal (GGR), Net-zero CO2 emissions, Negative emissions and Net-negative emissions.


The interconnected body of saline water that covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, contains 97% of the Earth’s water and provides 99% of the Earth’s biologically habitable space. It includes the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans, as well as their marginal seas and coastal waters. See also Blue carbon, Coast, Ocean acidification (OA), Ocean deoxygenation and Southern Ocean.

Ocean acidification (OA)

A reduction in the pH of the ocean, accompanied by other chemical changes (primarily in the levels of carbonate and bicarbonate ions), over an extended period, typically decades or longer, which is caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, but can also be caused by other chemical additions or subtractions from the ocean. Anthropogenic OA refers to the component of pH reduction that is caused by human activity (IPCC, 2011, p. 37). See also Carbon cycle, Climate change and Global warming.

Ocean deoxygenation

The loss of oxygen in the ocean. It results from ocean warming, which reduces oxygen solubility and increases oxygen consumption and stratification, thereby reducing the mixing of oxygen into the ocean interior. Deoxygenation can also be exacerbated by the addition of excess nutrients in the coastal zone.

Outburst flood

See Glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF)/Glacier lake outburst.

Outlet glaciers

A glacier, usually between rock walls, that is part of, and drains an ice sheet. See also Ice stream and Hydrological cycle.


See Discharge (of ice).


See Temperature overshoot.

Ozone (O3)

The triatomic form of oxygen, and a gaseous atmospheric constituent. In the troposphere, O3 is created both naturally and by photochemical reactions involving gases resulting from human activities (e.g., smog). Tropospheric O3 acts as a greenhouse gas (GHG). In the stratosphere, O3 is created by the interaction between solar ultraviolet radiation and molecular oxygen (O2). Stratospheric O3 plays a dominant role in the stratospheric radiative balance. Its  concentration is highest in the ozone layer. See also Anthropogenic and Radiative forcing.



Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in December 2015 in Paris, France, at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC. The agreement, adopted by 196 Parties to the UNFCCC, entered into force on 4 November 2016 and as of May 2018 had 195 Signatories and was ratified by 177 Parties. One of the goals of the Paris Agreement is ‘Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels’, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. Additionally, the Agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. The Paris Agreement is intended to become fully effective in 2020. See also Kyoto Protocol and Nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Participatory governance

See Governance.

Particulate organic carbon (POC)

See Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and particulate organic carbon (POC).


The temporal evolution of natural and/or human systems towards a future state. Pathway concepts range from sets of quantitative and qualitative scenarios or narratives of potential futures to solution oriented decision making processes to achieve desirable societal goals. Pathway approaches typically focus on biophysical, technoeconomic, and/or sociobehavioural trajectories and involve various dynamics, goals, and actors across different scales.

Adaptation pathways A series of adaptation choices involving trade-offs between short-term and long-term goals and values. These are processes of deliberation to identify solutions that are meaningful to people in the context of their daily lives and to avoid potential maladaptation.

Development pathways Trajectories based on an array of social, economic, cultural, technological, institutional and biophysical features that characterise the interactions between human and natural systems and outline visions for the future, at a particular scale. See also Climate-resilient development pathways (CRDPs) and Human systems.

Emission pathways Modelled trajectories of global anthropogenic emissions over the 21st century are termed emission pathways. Emission pathways are classified by their temperature trajectory over the 21st century: pathways giving at least 50% probability based on current knowledge of limiting global warming to below 1.5oC are classified as ‘no overshoot’; those limiting warming to below 1.6oC and returning to 1.5oC by 2100 are classified as ‘1.5oC limited overshoot’; while those exceeding 1.6oC but still returning to 1.5oC by 2100 are classified as ‘higher overshoot’. See also Temperature overshoot.

Representative concentration pathways (RCPs) Scenarios that include time series of emissions and concentrations of the full suite of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols and chemically active gases, as well as land use/land cover (Moss et al., 2008). The word ‘representative’ signifies that each RCP provides only one of many possible scenarios that would lead to the specific radiative forcing characteristics. The term ‘pathway’ emphasises the fact that not only the long-term concentration levels, but also the trajectory taken over time to reach that outcome are of interest (Moss et al., 2010). RCPs were used to develop climate projections in Coupled Model Intercomparison Project CMIP5.

RCP2.6: One pathway where radiative forcing peaks at approximately 3 W m–2 and then declines to be limited at 2.6 W m–2 in 2100 (the corresponding Extended Concentration Pathway (ECP) assuming constant emissions after 2100).

RCP4.5 and RCP6.0: Two intermediate stabilisation pathways in which radiative forcing is limited at approximately 4.5 W m–2 and 6.0 W m–2 in 2100 (the corresponding ECPs assuming constant concentrations after 2150).

RCP8.5: One high pathway which leads to >8.5 W m–2 in 2100 (the corresponding ECP assuming constant emissions after 2100 until 2150 and constant concentrations after 2250). See also Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs).

Shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs) were developed to complement the RCPs with varying socioeconomic challenges to adaptation and mitigation (O’Neill et al., 2014). Based on five narratives, the SSPs describe alternative socioeconomic futures in the absence of climate policy intervention, comprising sustainable development (SSP1), regional rivalry (SSP3), inequality (SSP4), fossil-fuelled development (SSP5), and a middle-of-the-road development (SSP2) (O’Neill et al., 2017; Riahi et al., 2017). The combination of SSP-based socioeconomic scenarios and RCP-based climate projections provides an integrative frame for climate impact and policy analysis.

Sustainable development pathways (SDPs) Trajectories aimed at attaining the sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the short term and the goals of sustainable development in the long term. In the context of climate change, such pathways denote trajectories that address social, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainable development, adaptation and mitigation, and transformation, in a generic sense or from a particular methodological perspective such as integrated assessment models and scenario simulations.

See also Emission scenario, Institution, Mitigation scenario and Natural Systems.


The pelagic zone consists of the entire water column of the open ocean. It is subdivided into the ‘epipelagic zone’ (<200 m, the uppermost part of the ocean that receives enough sunlight to allow photosynthesis), the ‘mesopelagic zone’ (200–1000 m depth) and the ‘bathypelagic zone’ (>1000 m depth). The term ‘pelagic’ can also refer to organisms that live in the pelagic zone.


Ground (soil or rock, and included ice and organic material) that remains at or below 0oC for at least two consecutive years (Harris et al., 1988). Note that permafrost is defined via temperature rather than ice content and, in some instances, may be ice-free.

Near-surface permafrost Permafrost within ~3–4 m of the ground surface. The depth is not precise, but describes what commonly is highly relevant for people and ecosystems. Deeper permafrost is often progressively less ice-rich and responds more slowly to warming than near-surface permafrost. Presence or absence of near-surface permafrost is not the only significant metric of permafrost change, and deeper permafrost may persist when near-surface permafrost is absent.

Permafrost degradation Decrease in the thickness and/or areal extent of permafrost.

Permafrost thaw Progressive loss of ground ice in permafrost, usually due to input of heat. Thaw can occur over decades to centuries over the entire depth of permafrost ground, with impacts occurring while thaw progresses. During thaw, temperature fluctuations are subdued because energy is transferred by phase change between ice and water. After the transition from permafrost to non-permafrost, ground can be described as thawed.

See also Cryosphere and Frozen ground.

Permafrost degradation

See Permafrost.

Permafrost thaw

See Permafrost.


A dimensionless measure of the acidity of a solution given by its concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). pH is measured on a logarithmic scale where pH = -log10(H+). Thus, a pH decrease of 1 unit corresponds to a 10-fold increase in the concentration of H+, or acidity. See also Ocean acidification (OA).

Planned relocation (of humans)

A form of human mobility response in the face of sea level rise and related impacts. Planned relocation is typically initiated, supervised and implemented from national to local level and involves small communities and individual assets but may also involve large populations. Also termed resettlement, managed retreat, or managed realignment. See also (Internal) Displacement (of humans) and Sea level change (sea level rise/sea level fall).


Change in organismal trait values in response to an environmental cue, and which does not require change in underlying DNA sequence.

Political economy

The set of interlinked relationships between people, the state, society and markets as defined by law, politics, economics, customs and power that determine the outcome of trade and transactions and the distribution of wealth in a country or economy.


A complex concept with several definitions stemming from different schools of thought. It can refer to material circumstances (such as need, pattern of deprivation or limited resources), economic conditions (such as standard of living, inequality or economic position) and/or social relationships (such as social class, dependency, exclusion, lack of basic security or lack of entitlement). See also Equality and Poverty eradication.

Poverty eradication

A set of measures to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. See also Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Atmospheric compounds that are not greenhouse gases (GHGs) or aerosols, but that have an effect on GHG or aerosol concentrations by taking part in physical or chemical processes regulating their production or destruction rates.


The multi-century period prior to the onset of large-scale industrial activity around 1750. In this Special Report, as in IPCC 2018a, the reference period 1850–1900 is used to approximate pre-industrial global mean surface temperature. See also Industrial Revolution.

Private costs

Costs carried by individuals, companies or other private entities that undertake an action, whereas social costs include additionally the external costs on the environment and on society as a whole. Quantitative estimates of both private and social costs may be incomplete, because of difficulties in measuring all relevant effect.

Primary production

The synthesis of organic compounds by plants and microbes, on land or in the ocean, primarily by photosynthesis using light and carbon dioxide (CO2) as sources of energy and carbon, respectively. It can also occur through chemosynthesis, using chemical energy, for example, in deep sea vents.

Gross primary production (GPP) The total amount of carbon fixed by photosynthesis over a specified time period.

Net primary production (NPP) The amount of carbon accumulated through photosynthesis minus the amount lost by respiration over a specified time period.


A potential future evolution of a quantity or set of quantities, often computed with the aid of a model. Unlike predictions, projections are conditional on assumptions concerning, for example, future socioeconomic and technological developments that may or may not be realised. See also Climate projection, (Model) ensemble, Scenario and Pathways.


Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate