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Mat Hope

Mat Hope

15.04.2014 | 11:15am
IPCCFrom RCP to WG3: A climate change acronym cheat sheet
IPCC | April 15. 2014. 11:15
From RCP to WG3: A climate change acronym cheat sheet

Know your AFOLU from your LULUCF? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made great efforts to cut the “weirdo words” and put its big climate reports into terms everyone can understand. But that hasn’t stopped it from occasionally befuddling readers with a range of complex acronyms.

We decode some of the most common.


IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC is an international group of scientists set up in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations. It doesn’t do any of its own research, but aims “to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge” about climate change through a series of reports released every six or seven years.

UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
In 1992, hundreds of heads of state signed up to the UNFCCC. Under the convention, countries aim to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human-induced] interference with the climate system.”


AR1/2/3/4/5 – Assessment Reports 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
The IPCC has so far produced five reports reviewing the latest climate change research. The most recent – AR5 – is due to be released in its entirety before the end of April 2014.

WG1/2/3 – Working Groups 1, 2 and 3
The IPCC’s reports are split into three parts. Each instalment is the responsibility of a different set of researchers, known as a working group. Working group 1 looks at the physical science. Working Group 2 assess the impacts of climate change. Working Group 3 focus on climate policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

SPM – Summary for Policymakers
Each instalment of the IPCC’s assessment reports runs to thousands of pages. To help policymakers understand the key bits, the WGs produce a summary document, handily called a Summary for Policymakers.

SREX – Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation
In between AR4 and AR5, the IPCC released a report looking at the latest evidence on extreme weather. AR5 often references the SREX report.

TS – Technical Summary
As well as producing a SPM, the IPCC produces a TS. The TS is meant to provide “a policy-relevant but policy-neutral summary” of the ARs, the IPCC says.


RCP – Representative Concentration Pathways
The IPCC looks at a wide range of potential futures based on how big or small countries’ greenhouse gas emissions are. To model these, it developed a range of emissions pathways – the RCPs. Each RCP’s number (2.6, 4.5, 6.0, or 8.5) refers to a measure of how much extra energy the earth retains as a result of human activities by the end of the century.

BAU – Business as Usual
Refers to a scenario where countries’ future emissions broadly follow the trajectory of their emissions up to the present day.

AFOLU – Agriculture, forestry, and other land use
Changing bits of land by planting new crops, chopping down trees, or farming adjusts the how big an area’s emissions are or how much greenhouse gas it can absorb. When this happens, the IPCC talks about emissions from AFOLU.

LULUCF – Land use, land use change, and forestry
A slightly less specific acronym for activities along the same lines of AFOLU. Now you know.

REDD – Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation
Pretty much what it says on the tin. REDD refers to a set of policies aimed at reducing emission from chopping down trees.

REDD+ – Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus conservation policies
Because sometimes REDD just isn’t enough. REDD+ includes conservation and sustainable forestry policies as well as those aimed at preventing deforestation.


PPM – parts per million
The IPCC measures emissions concentrations – the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – in parts per million. For instance, to stand a decent chance of avoiding temperature rises of more than two degrees above pre-industrial levels, the global greenhouse gas emissions concentration must stay between 400 and 530 ppm, the IPPC says.

CO2eq. – carbon dioxide equivalent
Carbon dioxide may be the best known greenhouse gas but it’s not the only one. Emissions of others – such as methane and nitrous oxide – also need reducing if the world is going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. When the IPCC talks about cutting emissions of more than just carbon dioxide, the cuts are expressed in terms of CO2eq.


SRM – Solar radiation management
SRM is a type of geoengineering. SRM techniques reflect sunlight away from the earth’s surface to curb global warming – by spraying artificial clouds into the atmosphere, for instance.

CDR – Carbon dioxide removal
Another type of geoengineering, CDR involves extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – through dumping iron filings in the sea, for instance.

CCS – Carbon capture and storage
CCS technology traps emissions, and stores them underground. The technology can be applied to fossil fuel power plants and could allow countries to carry on burning coal and gas. CCS has  yet to be proven at a commercial scale, however.

BECCS – Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage
A specific type of CCS, bioenergy is an exciting prospect as it could one day provide ‘carbon negative’ power. The basic principle is this: Power plants burn biomass (normally wood or other foliage), with the emissions captured and stored – thus making the process ‘carbon neutral’. At the same time, more biomass is grown, with the crops absorbing carbon dioxide – making the process ‘carbon negative’. At least, that’s the theory. The technology is yet to be proven on a large scale.

Now you know your AFOLU from your SREX, you’re all set to dive into the reports. Have fun.

If we missed any, let us know in the comments below.

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