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How to Speak Like a Climate Negotiator

Since global climate negotiations began in the 1990s, United Nations delegates have accumulated an idiosyncratic cache of climate diplomacy gobbledygook. Euphemisms have been adopted to mollify specific nations. Acronyms are based on tongue-twisting verbiage from formal agreements.

Here’s Climate Central’s guide to digesting the mumbo jumbo that’s being served up ahead of a key two-week round of climate talks in Paris, beginning today.

What it means:
At the end of every year, a session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change is held, during which decisions that were mulled during lower-level meetings are negotiated and formalized into climate agreements. These sessions are known as conferences of the parties (COPs), and the Paris meeting will be the 21st COP.

What it means:
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol — a 1997 climate pact that sought to force specific pollution reductions on certain countries, but failed to do virtually anything to slow global warming — the hoped-for Paris agreement would see nations taking voluntary steps to stem greenhouse gas pollution. More than 100 countries have already outlined what those steps will be. The climate pledges made by those countries are called intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs.

What it means:
Carbon cap-and-trade programs, which are popping up across the globe, limit the release of greenhouse gases and tax companies that release them. Some carbon markets already traverse national borders — the European Union trading system covers 31 countries, and California’s program is linked with Quebec’s. Many countries hope a Paris agreement will explicitly allow such international trading as a tool for reducing pollution. The codewords that negotiators have adopted for carbon trading were designed to appease anti-capitalist Latin American governments, which are wary of international markets in general.

What it means:
Land use, land-use change and forestry,” which is often abbreviated to just “land use,” is responsible for about a quarter of the climate-changing pollution that’s escaping into the atmosphere every year. It remains unclear what role LULUCF will play in a Paris agreement, but it seems certain that it will play a role of some sort.

What it means:
Island states, African nations and other vulnerable countries are pushing for a system that provides funding to help them recover from disasters made worse by climate change, such as rising seas or powerful storms. Developed countries that have done the most to cause global warming fear being asked to shell out limitless compensation for bad weather. To try to assuage the rich countries, the word “compensation” has been abandoned in favor of less-frightening words.

What it means:
This anachronistic term dates back to the Kyoto Protocol, which annexed the richest countries into a single group. Each Annex I country was supposed to achieve specific reductions in greenhouse gas pollution. Economic circumstances have changed since then. Greece is an Annex I country, for example, but its per-capita GDP is less than half that of Singapore, which is a Non-Annex I country. Further, the voluntary nature of the hoped-for Paris agreement means it makes less sense now to lump countries into binary categories based on wealth. Still, “Annex I” references remain littered throughout the text of the draft Paris agreement, because some countries, such as India, have clung to bureaucratic interpretations of equity that others regard as rigid and outdated.

What it means:
The Group of 77 was formed in the 1960s, when it comprised 77 developing countries. It is now a negotiating bloc at U.N. climate talks representing more than 130 nations. It negotiates in partnership with China, even though the Chinese economy is well developed. LDC is a negotiating bloc comprising about 50 of the planet’s least developed countries, such as Burkina Faso, Vanuatu and Myanmar.

What it means:
Small Island Developing States and the Alliance of Small Island States are negotiating groups comprising the nations that are most vulnerable to rising seas. These nations also tend to be poor, making the task of adapting to sea-level rise even more challenging for them — and potentially existential. These countries include Cuba, Haiti and Belize.


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November 2015 Global Temperatures Globally, November was the hottest November on record.

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