1.5°C warmer worlds | Projected worlds in which global warming has reached and, unless otherwise indicated, been limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. There is no single 1.5°C warmer world, and projections of 1.5°C warmer worlds look different depending on whether it is considered on a near-term transient trajectory or at climate equilibrium after several millennia, and, in both cases, if it occurs with or without overshoot. Within the 21st century, several aspects play a role for the assessment of risk and potential impactsin 1.5°C warmer worlds: the possible occurrence, magnitude and duration of an overshoot; the way in which emissions reductions are achieved; the ways in which policies might be able to influence the resilience of human and natural systems; and the nature of the regional and sub-regional risks. Beyond the 21st century, several elements of the climate system would continue to change even if the global mean temperatures remain stable, including further increases of sea level. (IPCC, 2018)

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development | A UN resolution in September 2015 adopting a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity in a new global development framework anchored in 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015).


Aarhus Convention | Shorthand for the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. Adopted in 1998, entered into force in 2001. (UNEP, 2007)

Agenda 21 | Programme of action on sustainable development adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, often referred to as the “Blueprint for Sustainable Development.” Agenda 21 has 40 chapters dealing with all aspects of sustainable development, including social and economic dimensions (combating poverty and promoting human health), conservation and resource management, major groups (e.g. women, indigenous people, business and unions), and means of implementation (e.g. financial resources, transfer of technology, public awareness and education). (UNEP, 2007)

Air pollution | Degradation of air quality with negative effects on human health or the natural or built environment due to the introduction, by natural processes or human activity, into the atmosphere of substances (gases, aerosols) which have a direct (primary pollutants) or indirect (secondary pollutants) harmful effect. (IPCC, 2018)

Alpine Convention | Convention on the Protection of the Alps. Signed in 1991, entered into force in 1995. The Alpine Convention is a framework convention to ensure the protection of the Alpine region and its sustainable development. (UNEP, 2007)


Basel Convention | Shorthand for the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Adopted in 1989, entered into force in 1992. (UNEP, 2007)

Brundtland Commission | Shorthand for the World Commission on Environment and Development. Named after its Chair, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norwegian Prime Minister. The Commission produced a report in 1987, Our Common Future, which laid down the concept of sustainable development. (UNEP, 2007)

Brundtland Report | The outcome of the Brundtland Commission. Published in 1987. (UNEP, 2007)


Carbon Market | A popular term for a trading system through which countries may buy or sell units of greenhouse-gas emissions in an effort to meet their national limits on emissions, either under the Kyoto Protocol or under other agreements, such as that among member states of the European Union. (UNEP, 2007)

Carbon sequestration | The process of removing additional carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in other “reservoirs”, principally through changes in land use. In practical terms, the carbon sequestration occurs mostly through the expansion of forests. (UNEP, 2007)

Carbon tax | Tax by governments on the use of carbon-containing fuels. (UNEP, 2007)

Carpathian Convention | Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians. Adopted in 2003, entered into force in 2006. (UNEP, 2007)

Cartagena Convention | Shorthand for the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region. Adopted in 1983, entered into force in 1986. (UNEP, 2007)

Cartagena Protocol | Other name of the Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). (UNEP, 2007)

CBD | Convention on Biological Diversity. Adopted in 1992, entered into force in 1993. One of the Rio Conventions. (UNEP, 2007)

Climate change | 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 (UNFCCC).

CMS | Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Also called the “Bonn Convention”. Adopted in 1979, entered into force in 1983. (UNEP, 2007)

Convention | A binding agreement between States. Generally used for formal multilateral instruments with a broad number of Parties. (UNEP, 2007)

COP | Conference of the Parties


Deforestation | The direct human-induced conversion of forested land to non-forested land. (UNFCCC)

Desertification | Degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities (UNCCD).


Earth Negotiations Bulletin | An independent, impartial reporting service published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), providing daily summaries of major international environmental meetings and Conference of the Parties to various MEAs.

Ecological infrastructure | Refers to the natural or semi-natural structural elements of ecosystems and landscapes that are important in delivering ecosystem services. It is similar to ‘green infrastructure’, a term sometimes applied in a more urban context. The ecological infrastructure needed to support pollinators and improve pollination services includes patches of semi-natural habitats, including hedgerows, grassland and forest, distributed throughout productive agricultural landscapes, providing nesting and floral resources. Larger areas of natural habitat are also ecological infrastructure, although these do not directly support agricultural pollination in areas more than a few kilometers away from pollinator-dependent crops. (IPBES, 2020)

ECOSOC | UN Economic and Social Council. One of the principal organs of the UN, addressing economic, social, cultural, educational, health, environmental and other related matters.

Ecosystem | Dynamic complex of plant, animal, micro-organism communities and their non-living environment, interacting as a functional unit (CBD). Ecosystems are irrespective of political boundaries. (UNEP, 2007)

Ecosystem services | Processes and functions provided by natural ecosystems that sustain life and are critical to human welfare. (UNEP, 2007)

Eco-tourism | Travel undertaken to witness sites or regions of unique natural or ecologic quality, or the provision of services to facilitate such travel. (UNEP, 2007)

EMG | Environmental Management Group

Environmental Impact Assessment | Process by which the environmental consequences of a proposed project or programme are evaluated and alternatives are analyzed. EIA is an integral part of the planning and decision-making processes. (UNEP, 2007)

Environmental Management Group | Group created in 1999 by the UN General Assembly to enhance worldwide cooperation in the field of environment and human settlements. The EMG meets periodically. Members are the specialized agencies, programmes and organs of the United Nations system, including secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements, as well as the Bretton Woods Institutions and the World Trade Organization (WTO).


FAO | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The UN specialized organization for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and rural development. Established in 1945.

Food wastage |  Food wastage encompasses food loss (the loss of food during production and transportation) and food waste (the waste of food by the consumer) (FAO, 2013).

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


GEF | Global Environment Facility

Geoengineering | The deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change. There is wide range of proposed geoengineering techniques. (Oxford Martin School, 2020)

Global Biodiversity Outlook | Periodic report prepared by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on the status and trends of biological diversity at the global and national level, as well as the steps taken to conserve and use sustainably the biodiversity and share equitably the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. (UNEP, 2007)

Global Compact | A UN initiative launched in 1999 to bring the private sector together with UN agencies and civil society to support ten principles related to human rights, labour, anti-corruption and the environment.

Global Environment Facility | Launched in 1991, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) provides grant and concessional funds to developing countries for projects and programmes targeting global environmental issues: climate change, biological diversity, international waters, ozone layer depletion, land degradation and persistent organic pollutants. Its implementing agencies are UNEP, UNDP, and the IBRD. Designated as the operating entity of the financial mechanism for some MEAs (e.g., the CBD and the UNFCCC). (UNEP, 2007)

Global Environment Outlook | A periodic report that provides a comprehensive overview of the state of the global environment. Published every five years by UNEP. (UNEP, 2007)

Greenhouse gas | Atmospheric gas that traps the heat and is responsible for warming the earth and climate change. The major greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). Less prevalent – but very powerful – greenhouse gases are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). Those gases are regulated under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)and the Kyoto Protocol. Some greenhouse gases are also regulated under the Montreal Protocol for their effects on the ozone layer. (UNEP, 2007)

GRID | Global Resources Information Database. The basis for UNEP’s environmental assessment programme. (UNEP, 2007)


Hazardous wastes | Wastes that exhibit one or more hazardous characteristics, such as being flammable, oxidizing, poisonous, infectious, corrosive, or ecotoxic (Basel Convention)

HCFCs | Hydrochlorofluorocarbons. Regulated under the Montreal Protocol. (UNEP, 2007)

HFCs | Hydrofluorocarbons. Regulated under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as under the Montreal Protocol. (UNEP, 2007)


ILO | International Labour Organization. UN specialized agency, which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights. Founded in 1919.

Indigenous people | Usually considered to include cultural groups and their descendants who have a historical continuity or association with a given region, or parts of a region, and who currently inhabit or have formerly inhabited the region either before its subsequent colonization or annexation, or alongside other cultural groups during the formation of a nation-state, or independently or largely isolated from the influence of the claimed governance by a nation-state, and who furthermore have maintained, at least in part, their distinct linguistic, cultural and social / organizational characteristics, and in doing so remain differentiated in some degree from the surrounding populations and dominant culture of the nation-state. Also includes people who are self-identified as indigenous, and those recognized as such by other groups. (UNEP, 2007)

Invasive species | A species that invades natural habitats. (UNEP, 2007)

IPBES | Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Established in 2012 as an independent intergovernmental body to strengthen the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long-term human well-being and sustainable development.

IPCC | Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Established jointly by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UNEP in 1998 to assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic impacts of climate change.

ISO | International Organization for Standardization. Non-governmental organization, the members of which are national standards institutes of 156 countries. Established in 1946 to facilitate the international coordination and unification of industrial standards.

IUCN | The World Conservation Union. A hybrid international organization, the membership of which is composed of governments and non-governmental organizations.

IUU | Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (fishing). (UNEP, 2007)


Johannesburg Plan of Implementation | One of the outcomes of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Outlines a framework for action to implement the commitments undertaken at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), including goals and time-bound targets.(UNEP, 2007)


Kyoto Protocol | Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Provides for binding emission reductions for Annex I Parties to the UNFCCC. Adopted in 1997, entered into force in 2005.


Land degradation | Reduction or loss, in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rainfed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest and woodlands resulting from land use or from a process or combination of processes, including processes arising from human activity and habitation patterns. (UNEP, 2007)


MIKE | Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants. A monitoring system established to contribute to an assessment of the impact of decisionson the illegal hunting of elephants, adopted under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). (UNEP, 2007)

Millennium Development Goals | A set of eight goals and associated targets to achieve poverty alleviation by 2015, which found their origin in the Millennium Summit. (UNEP, 2007)

Mitigation | In the context of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, actions to cut net emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce climate change as a consequence (UNFCCC).

Montreal Protocol | Shorthand for the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. Adopted in 1987, entered into force in 1989.

Multilateral Environmental Agreement | A generic term for treaties, conventions, protocols, and other binding instruments related to the environment. Usually applied to instruments of a geographic scope wider than that of a bilateral agreement (i.e., between two States).


Natural capital | The stock of natural resources that provides flows of valuable goods and services (World Bank, 2012).

Nature-based solutions | Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits. (IUCN, 2020)

NDC | According to Article 4 paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement, each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions. More information here. (UNFCCC, 2020)

Negative emissions | Removal of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere by deliberate human activities, i.e., in addition to the removal that would occur via natural carbon cycle processes. See also Net negative emissions, Net zero emissions, Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and Greenhouse gas removal (GGR). (IPCC, 2018)

Net zero emissions | Net zero emissions are achieved when anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period. Where multiple greenhouse gases 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 Net zero CO2 emissions, Negative emissions and Net negative emissions. (IPCC, 2018)

Nitrous oxide (N2O) | One of the six greenhouse gases (GHGs) to be mitigated under the Kyoto Protocol. The main anthropogenic source of N2O is agriculture (soil and animal manure management), but important contributions also come from sewage treatment, fossil fuel combustion, and chemical industrial processes. N2O is also produced naturally from a wide variety of biological sources in soil and water, particularly microbial action in wet tropical forests. (IPCC, 2018)


Ocean fertilization | Deliberate increase of nutrient supply to the near-surface ocean in order to enhance biological production through which additional carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is sequestered. This can be achieved by the addition of micro-nutrients or macro-nutrients. Ocean fertilization is regulated by the London Protocol. (IPCC, 2018)

OEWG | Open-ended Working Group

Ozone Secretariat | Secretariat administered by UNEP. Services the Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol.


Persistent Organic Pollutants | Also referred to as POPs. Chemicals that remain intact in the environment for long periods of time. Regulated under the Stockholm Convention. (UNEP, 2007)

Precautionary approach/principle | Approach/principle according to which the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing action where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the environment or human health. The approach/principle is embedded in several instruments, including Principle 15 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Whereby the precautionary approach is often used in negotiations to infer a less definite meaning than the precautionary principle. (UNEP, 2007)

Primary forest | Forest largely undisturbed by human activities. Also called “natural forest.” (UNEP, 2007)



Ramsar | Shorthand for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. Adopted in 1971, entered into force in 1975.

Ramsar List | List of Wetlands of International Importance. List of wetlands which have been designated by the Parties to the Ramsar Convention as internationally important according to one or more of the criteria that have been adopted by the Conference of the Parties.

Ramsar Site | Wetlands designated by the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention for inclusion in the Ramsar List because they meet one or more of the Ramsar criteria.

REDD | Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. (UNFCCC, 2020)

Reforestation | The direct human-induced conversion of non-forested land to forested land through planting, seeding and/or the human-induced promotion of natural seed sources, on land that was forested but that has been converted to non-forest land (UNFCCC).

Rio Conference | Shorthand for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. (UNEP, 2007)

Rio Convention(s) | Used to designate the conventions negotiated and adopted during the Rio Conference in 1992. These Conventions are the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to which the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), adopted in 1994, is also added. (UNEP, 2007)

Rio Declaration | Shorthand for the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted at the Rio Conference, the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Set of 27 Principles on sustainable development. (UNEP, 2007)

Rotterdam Convention | Shorthand for Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure For Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Also referred to as the “PIC Convention.” Adopted in 1998, entered into force in 2004.


SAICM | Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management. Approach developed on the basis of an open-ended consultative process involving representatives of all stakeholder groups, jointly convened by the Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC), the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety (IFCS) and UNEP. Adopted in 2006. (UNEP, 2007)

SIDS | Small Island Developing States. Low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and concerns about the environment, especially their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change. Agenda 21 recognized that SIDS and islands supporting small communities are a special case both for environment and development. Currently 41 SIDS are included in the list used by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. (UNEP, 2007)

Stockholm Conference | Shorthand for the UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972. The outcomes of the Stockholm Conference were:

  • the establishment of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • the establishment of an Environment Fund an Action Plan
  • the Stockholm Declaration

Stockholm Convention | Shorthand for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Adopted in 2001, entered into force in 2004. Also referred to as the “POPs Convention.”

Stockholm Declaration | One of the outcomes of the 1972 Stockholm Conference. A set of 26 Principles on environmental protection.

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

Sustainable Development Goals (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.


Tehran Convention | Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea. Signed in 2003 and entered into force in 2006.

Tipping point | A level of change in system properties beyond which a system reorganizes, often abruptly, and does not return to the initial state even if the drivers of the change are abated. For the climate system, it refers to a critical threshold when global or regional climate changes from one stable state to another stable state. (IPCC, 2018)


UN/ECE or UNECE | Economic Commission for Europe. One of the regional commissions of ECOSOC.

UNCCD | UN Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, especially in Africa. Adopted in 1994, entered into force in 1996. Often referred to as one of the Rio Conventions,as impetus for the Convention was gathered at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio, Brazil (see Rio Conference).

UNCED | UN Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio, Brazil, in 1992 (see Rio Conference).

UNCLOS | UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Adopted in 1982, entered into force in 1994.

UNCTAD | UN Conference on Trade and Development. Established in 1964 to promote the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy and help shape policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.

UNDP | United Nations Development Programme. Created in 1965. Body responsible for coordinating UN development-related work.

UNEA | The United Nations Environment Assembly is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, with a universal membership of all 193 Member States.
UNEP | United Nations Environment Programme. Established in 1972 to lead and coordinate UN environment-related work.

UNEP – WCMC | UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The biodiversity assessment and policy implementation arm of UNEP.

UNESCO | UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Created in 1945.

UNFCCC | UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Adopted in 1992, entered into force in 1994. One of the Rio Conventions. UNFFUnited Nations Forum on Forests. Created in 2000 for 5 years. Provides a forum for policy development and cooperation on matters related to sustainable forest management.

UN-Habitat | United Nations Human Settlements Programme. Established in 1978 to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

UNIDO | United Nations Industrial Development Organization. Set up in 1966 and became a specialized agency of the UN in 1985. Has responsibility for promoting industrialization throughout the developing world.

UNITAR | United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Established in 1965 to enhance the effectiveness of the UN through appropriate training and research, including through the conduct of training programmes in multilateral diplomacy and international cooperation and training programmes in the field of social and economic development.

UNOG | United Nations Offices at Geneva.

UNWTO | World Tourism Organization. The UN specialized agency, which serves as a global forum for tourism policy issues and practical source of tourism know-how.

UPOV | International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. International organization established by the 1961 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants.


Voluntary Contribution | A contribution of any kind that unlike Assessed Contribution, is not assessed under a binding international agreement, including the furnishing of funds for other financial support; services of any kind (including the use of experts or other personnel); or commodities, equipment, supplies, or other material. (UNEP, 2007)

Vulnerability | The degree to which a community, population, species, ecosystem, region, agricultural system, or some other quantity is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change. (UNEP, 2007)


Wastes | Substances or objects which are disposed of or are intended to be disposed of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national law (Basel Convention).

WCC | World Climate Conference

WCMC | UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The biodiversity assessment and policy implementation arm of UNEP.

WHO | World Health Organization. The UN specialized agency for issues related to health. Established in 1948.

WHYCOS | World Hydrological Cycle Observing System. Global programme to strengthen the technical and institutional capacities of hydrological services, establish a global network of national hydrological observatories, and promote and facilitate the dissemination and use of water-related information.

WIPO | World Intellectual Property Organization. A UN specialized agency, established in 1970 to administer all matters related to intellectual property. WIPO has established an Intergovernmental Committee on Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore, which meets periodically.

WMO | World Meteorological Organization. One of the UN specialized agencies, established in 1950 to address matters related to meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences.

World Heritage Site | Designation for places on earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been included on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy, according to the World Heritage Convention (WHC).

WSSD | World Summit on Sustainable Development. Held in 2002, in Johannesburg, South Africa. The outcomes of the WSSD are:

  • The Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development
  • The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation
  • Type II Partnerships

WTO | World Trade Organization. An international organization established in 1995 to provide a forum for trade negotiations, handle trade disputes, monitor national trade policies and provide technical assistance and training for developing countries, among others.




Zoonotic disease | Any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans. Animals thus play an essential role in maintaining zoonotic infections in nature. Zoonoses may be bacterial, viral, or parasitic, or may involve unconventional agents. As well as being a public health problem, many of the major zoonotic diseases prevent the efficient production of food of animal origin and create obstacles to international trade in animal products. (WHO, 2017)


FAO, 2013: Food wastage footprint: Impacts on natural resources. Summary report. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Italy, 63 pp.

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UNEP, 2007. Glossary Of Terms For Negotiators Of Multilateral Environmental Agreements.

UNFCCC, 2020. Glossary of climate change acronyms and terms. [ONLINE] Available at: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-convention/glossary-of-climate-change-acronyms-and-terms. [Accessed 01 May 2020].

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