Climate Action

COP27: Climate conference jargon decoded

The entrance of the Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre during the COP27 climate summit in Egypt.

From 'Kyoto protocol’ to ‘climate finance’, here's what the COP27 buzzwords mean. Image: REUTERS/Emilie Madi

Douglas Broom
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  • The COP27 climate summit has opened in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.
  • As world leaders debate the future of climate action, certain terms keep coming up.
  • From ‘Kyoto Protocol’ to ‘climate finance’, we decode some of the language they’ll be using.

The COP27 climate summit opened with a stark warning from UN Secretary-General António Guterres that our planet is on a “highway to climate hell”.

That message couldn’t be clearer. But as world leaders debate the future of climate action, certain terms and acronyms are in frequent use. Here, we decode some of the most common ones.


This year marks the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP) to accelerate action towards the goals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), first launched in 1994 and made up of the nations who signed up to the Paris Agreement.


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An activist demonstrates during the COP27 climate summit opening, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
An activist at the opening of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt. Image: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Paris Agreement

Signed at COP21 in Paris in December 2015, this legally binding international treaty on climate change has been adopted by 196 countries and sets individual national targets to limit global warming to “well below” 2C.

Glasgow Climate Pact

The previous UN climate summit took place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2021 and led to the first international agreement specifically seeking to reduce the use of fossil fuels, contained in what became known as the Glasgow Climate Pact.

Loss and damage

The 2013 COP19 conference in Warsaw, Poland, established an international mechanism for establishing the loss and damage already suffered by developing countries as a result of climate change. Quantifying losses and agreeing who will pay remain controversial topics at COP27.

Greenhouse gases

These are gases which contribute to heating the atmosphere, often abbreviated to GHGs. UNFCCC defines greenhouse gases as: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). It also names hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) as less prevalent but powerful GHGs.

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Nationally determined contributions (NDCs)

These are individual national emissions reduction plans designed to deliver each country’s commitments to cut emissions. They were first agreed at Paris in 2015 and are revised every five years.

Kyoto Protocol

Signed in 1997 but not ratified until 2005, the Kyoto Protocol created practical steps to turn the principles set out in the UNFCCC into action, including introducing international emissions trading and independent monitoring of individual countries’ emissions.

Common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR)

Set out in the Kyoto Protocol, CBDR, sets out the principle that developed countries, which have historically generated the most emissions, should be the leaders in the fight to control climate change.

Climate finance

In 2010 at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico, the world’s richest nations agreed to provide a minimum of $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries mitigate climate impacts like rising sea levels and extreme weather events. The pledge was extended to 2025 at the Paris conference.

Just transition

A term used to describe the process by which countries will adapt to climate change while protecting employment rights and workplace standards as well as creating new quality jobs in an emissions-free world.

With this in mind, the World Economic Forum launched the First Movers Coalition at COP26, with the aim of harnessing the purchasing power of companies to decarbonize seven ‘hard to abate’ industrial sectors.

Greenwashing and greenhushing

Organizations that make misleading environmental claims have been accused of greenwashing. Greenhushing is a new phenomenon where companies set a carbon reduction target but don’t talk about it, either to avoid scrutiny or because the public mood changes, according to climate action advisers South Pole.

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