When it comes to building a more sustainable economy, being on the same page as everyone else is crucial. As companies, cities, states and regions journey towards net zero, we must ensure consistency in benchmarks, science-based targets, and definitions of terms.
The acronyms and technical terms that surround climate change and other environmental crises can be time-consuming to navigate, but with this list of sustainability definitions we aim to demystify the words and phrases you might come across. We'll keep this page updated so check back regularly, and feel free to let us know if anything else should be included.
The target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement as the global average temperature compared with pre-industrial history. Scientists generally agree that global temperatures must be kept well below 2 degrees – ideally 1.5 degrees – to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
The ability of systems, institutions, humans and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences.
CDP provides the leading scoring system for companies, cities, states and regions taking action on the environment. The best performing bodies are awarded a place on CDP’s annual A List, to celebrate their work on climate change, deforestation and/or water security. These groups are considered to be leading the way, acting as examples of relative best practice to others, and helping drive the transition to a sustainable economy.
For example, an A List city demonstrates best practice standards across adaptation and mitigation to climate change, sets ambitious but realistic goals and makes progress towards achieving those goals.
The biological diversity of flora and fauna species on Earth, a complex web of life that underpins the natural life processes on the planet. Human-caused environmental damage reduces biodiversity, and creating a healthy, sustainable society requires increasing biodiversity.
The United Nations’ initiative to protect and preserve biological diversity on Earth for future generations.
CDP, originally known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, is a global non-profit that runs the world’s environmental disclosure system for investors, companies, cities and governments to assess their impact and take urgent action to build a truly sustainable economy. Over the past 20 years we have created a system that has resulted in unparalleled engagement on environmental issues worldwide.
A range of authorities, varying in size and type, can report as a “city” to CDP-ICLEI, including local authorities (e.g. City of Manchester), combined authorities (e.g. Greater Manchester Combined Authority), and city cohorts (e.g. Chicago Metropolitan Mayors Caucus). Cities are at the epicenter of climate change, as they are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions and 93% report facing climate hazards that put their people and infrastructure at risk.
See also: global warming. The altering of the planet’s climate due to an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activity. Effects of climate change include rising temperatures, leading to increased extreme weather such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and storms, and resulting in reduced water and food security and social stability.
Policies and measures which make societies and companies more resilient to the impacts of climate change such as flooding and heatwaves.
Policies and measures which aim to reduce greenhouse gases from companies and governments with the intention of lessening the global impacts of climate change, such as reducing the amount and intensity of fossil fuel burning.
See also: climate change adaptation
A commercial business. Through disclosure, a company proactively demonstrates to capital markets, purchasers and consumers that it is committed to tackling environmental risks.
The decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which meets annually to encourage intergovernmental policy on climate change.
An assessment of the likelihood of current and future climate hazards. It is a critical process for local authorities to understand the environmental and social impacts that climate change will have on their jurisdiction.
The process of harvesting forests for natural resources or to clear land for agriculture or construction. Deforestation that occurs faster than forests are able to recover causes environmental damage such as loss of biodiversity and climate change.
The process in which a company submits requested information relating to the impact their business activities have on environmental areas such as climate change, deforestation and water security. Capital markets and purchasing organizations use data submitted through the disclosure process to make informed decisions.
The disclosure of a company, city, state or region’s impact on the environment. See also: disclosure.
A commodity for the production of which forest is being converted to agricultural use. The seven commodities responsible for the majority of agriculture-related deforestation are: timber products, palm oil, cattle, soy, rubber, coffee and cocoa.
Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, which trap and hold heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change. Much of human activity emits greenhouse gases, such as burning fossil fuels for energy and transport, farming land for food production, and deforestation.
See also: climate change. The increasing of the Earth’s average temperature due to a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activity. Effects of global warming include but are not restricted to increased extreme weather events, decreased water security, and rising sea levels.
The practice of falsely promoting an organization’s environmental efforts, or spending more resources to promote the organization as green than are spent to actually engage in environmentally sound practices. (Source)
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.
An intergovernmental body of the United Nations dedicated to researching and advancing knowledge of climate change. Internationally regarded as the leading scientific authority on climate change, and the author of reports that advise policymakers on the impacts of, and solutions to, climate change.
A landscape approach is a place-based management approach that involves stakeholders collaborating in a landscape to advance shared sustainability goals and build resilience. It aims to reconcile and optimize social, economic and environmental objectives across many economic sectors and land uses. Such approaches are implemented through land-use plans, policies, initiatives, long-term investments and other interventions.
Jurisdictional approaches differ in that they are aimed at advancing shared sustainability goals in landscapes defined by administrative boundaries of subnational governments. Also, this approach is implemented with a high level of government involvement compared to landscape approaches.
Actions to protect, conserve, restore, sustainably use and manage natural or modified terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems, which address social, economic and environmental challenges effectively and adaptively, while simultaneously providing human wellbeing, ecosystem services and resilience and biodiversity benefits.
Behaviour and actions which overall increase biodiversity and the number of species in nature, as opposed to causing them to decline.
A nationally determined contribution (NDC) is a non-binding national plan highlighting climate change mitigation, including climate-related targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions. These plans also include policies and measures governments aim to implement in response to climate change and as a contribution to achieve the global targets set out in the Paris Agreement.
The overall balance between emitting and absorbing carbon in the atmosphere. The outcome of limiting catastrophic climate change requires companies and countries to become net-zero, and many policies are based on achieving that within certain time frames.
A legally binding international treaty on climate change, adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015. Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
A devolved area of a larger country, usually with its own government, for example Prešov Region, Slovakia. State and regional governments play a vital role in driving climate action and delivering sustainable economies.
The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a global body enabling businesses to set ambitious emissions reductions targets in line with the latest climate science. The SBTi’s goal is to accelerate companies across the world to support the global economy to halve emissions before 2030 and achieve net-zero before 2050. The initiative is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and is one of the We Mean Business Coalition commitments. The SBTi defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting, offers resources and guidance to reduce barriers to adoption, and independently assesses and approves companies’ targets.
Provide a clearly-defined pathway for companies and financial institutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Scope 1 emissions refer to direct greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that occur from sources that are controlled or owned by an organization. This includes all land-use emissions from companies that own or control land to produce agricultural and forest-risk commodities.
Scope 2 emissions refer to indirect GHG emissions associated with any purchases of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling.
Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain. This includes the emissions linked to downstream companies where sourced commodities are being produced from forest-risk products through the Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sector (GHG Protocol).
Each year, CDP scores thousands of companies that disclose through CDP’s questionnaires on their environmental impacts, risks, opportunities, and actions across three themes: climate change, forests and water security. Scores awarded range from A to D-, with non-disclosers getting an F.
17 social goals established by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. The goals are: No poverty; zero hunger; good health and wellbeing; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace, justice and strong institutions; and partnerships for the goals.
An area of a country that has its own government and borders, for example New South Wales, Australia. State and regional governments play a vital role in driving climate action and delivering sustainable economies.
The multitude of companies involved in the entire process of creating a product or facilitating a service, for example manufacturers and providers of constituent ingredients used in a final product. Activities from a company's supply chain constitute its scope 3 emissions.
Maintaining a balance of resources extracted and resources restored. The 1987 United Nations Brundtland Commission defines it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainable finance taxonomies are one of the instruments that have been developed to support the redirection of financial flows towards environmentally (and socially) sustainable activities. According to the Bank for International Settlements, sustainable finance taxonomies are “set[s] of criteria which can form the basis for an evaluation of whether and to what extent a financial asset can support given sustainability goals”. The central goal of taxonomies is driving capital allocation towards sustainable activities, reducing greenwashing and enabling simpler comparison.
A time-bound action plan that clearly outlines how an organization will achieve its strategy to pivot its existing assets, operations, and entire business model towards a trajectory that aligns with the latest and most ambitious climate science recommendations, ie halving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050 at the latest, limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
The United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. The parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement. CDP is an accredited observer to the UNFCCC.
The capacity of a population to safeguard sustainable access to adequate quantities of acceptable quality water for sustaining livelihoods, human wellbeing, and socioeconomic development, for ensuring protection against water-borne pollution and water-related disasters, and for preserving ecosystems in a climate of peace and political stability (from UN Water). Reduced water security is an impact of climate change.