New words and expressions to know about the climate crisis

For a week now and for another week, representatives of the countries of the world have been meeting in Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) for COP27, the 27e Conference of signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The opportunity to confirm once again that it is not always easy to understand each other. And for us, it’s not always easy to follow debates full of more or less new words and expressions whose exact meaning is unknown.

Take, for example, an expression as often used as ” global warming “. She speaks for herself. And is used to designate the time we live in when temperatures are rising. Anglophones speak of “global warming”understand from ” global warming “, because the situation concerns the whole world. But many scientists prefer to use the expression ” climate change “. According to them, it better reflects the reality we live in, that of temperatures which increase on average, but can be much lower in certain regions and at certain times of the year. But also, for example, that of changing precipitation regimes, with, again, depending on the region and time of year, more droughts or more torrential rains. Last possibility, talk about ” climate deregulation “. A way, perhaps, of integrating the idea of ​​human responsibility.

Did you know ?

The expression that we hear more and more often, that of “warming stripes” Where « climate stripes », or in French, of “bands (or stripes) of global warming”or even from “warming bar code”, designates a graphic representation of the evolution of the temperatures on which the blue bands show the years with temperatures lower than the normal ones and the red bands, the years with temperatures higher than the normal ones. A way to visualize the trend over the long term.

Because yes, according to the latest report from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human responsibility in the climate change situation we are experiencing is now ” unequivocal “ . In question, our emissions of ” greenhouse gas “ (GES). Indeed, the disturbances observed on our climate are the consequence of an accumulation in the Earth’s atmosphere of a certain number of gases – the famous GHGs – such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4) which retain near the surface, part of the heat that the Planet receives from the Sun and that, without them, it would return to space.

A matter of carbon

It’s our thirst for” fossil fuels “ which is particularly problematic. These energies — gas, oil and coal in particular — in fact come from the decomposition of living organisms — especially plants — over hundreds of millions of years. They are high in carbon. This is not the case of “renewable energy”— nor nuclear power — so called because they rely on an unlimited resource like sunlight or wind. In the context of anthropogenic climate change, they have above all a much lower impact on our greenhouse gas emissions. Hence the idea of ​​operating a ” energetic transition “ . To move from massive consumption of fossil fuels to consumption — more rational, if possible, but we will come back to this — of renewable energies.

We have everything to gain from carrying out our energy transition as soon as possible

From there was also born a whole series of terms that are not always easy to define. For example, that of” carbon footprint “which informs about the emissions of an individual, a country, a company or a device. Or that of “decarbonization” . It was born from the fact that reducing our greenhouse gas emissions essentially amounts to reducing our carbon emissions, an element present in the main GHGs. Reduce our carbon emissions and therefore “decarbonize”our savings.

Decarbonizing our economy by 2050: “it’s not plausible”

And since we’re talking about carbon emissions, maybe it’s time to bring up this amazing expression of “carbon budget” . What climate experts call the carbon budget is simply the amount of carbon we can still afford to emit to stay below a given average temperature. According to the IPCC report, at the beginning of 2020, our carbon budget for a 50% chance of keeping warming below 1.5°C was around 500 gigatonnes of CO2. But it remains difficult to estimate precisely as the parameters to be taken into account are numerous.

Mitigate and Adapt

What scientists agree on is that we now need “attenuate” climate change. And to do this, reach the “net zero emissions” as quickly as possible. But what does this really mean? That we must reduce our emissions as much as possible. And that the rest will have to be absorbed naturally by the oceans or by the forests. Those that researchers call “carbon sinks”— soils are also – because they capture carbon from our atmosphere and store or “sequester”. For the rest, we should also be able to count on technologies called, precisely, “capture, storage and recovery of CO2 » . These technologies are intended to help us capture CO2 at the source — in factory fumes, for example — or even directly in the atmosphere — they are not yet developed — then to store it underground — the experts speak of CCS for carbon capture and storage— or to value it — the experts speak of CCU for carbon capture and use.

CO2 capture, an asset to achieve our climate objectives

The latest IPCC report also highlighted the need to implement measures to“adjustment”. Strategies to limit the vulnerability of ecosystems and our societies to the effects of climate change. The multiplication and intensification of heat waves or drought episodes, for example. Or the rise in sea level.

Zero emission objective: three parameters that could make everything fail

COP27, for its part, brought to the fore — even if the negotiations remain tense — an expression which had hitherto remained more confidential, that of “loss and damage”. It refers to the damage caused by anthropogenic climate change. By climatic disasters or melting ice. Whether on ecosystems or on human systems like our agriculture, for example. The discussions are tough between the countries which consider themselves victims – because low historical emitters of CO2— and the countries considered to be primarily responsible — because they are major GHG emitters — for the ongoing global warming. In particular concerning the compensation of these losses of damages.

A transition that goes beyond energy

And this may be a good time to return to the concept of transition. With the idea that evolution lies beyond our energy system, beyond our economy, to extend to our whole society. It’s a bit like the idea of “European Green Deal”the “Green Deal”. A set of measures aimed at reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while ensuring economic growth decoupled from the use of resources and leaving no one behind. An example of sustainable development.

Net zero emissions, we have already talked about it. In terms of growth and resource use, a few terms may need to be clarified. The concept of “planetary boundaries” , first of all, which goes a little beyond the issue of climate change. The planetary boundaries define a space for safe and just development, based on nine processes that together regulate the stability of our Earth such as, in addition to global warming, the use of water or the erosion of biodiversity.

A 6th planetary limit has just been crossed, there are only 3 left!

There is also the concept of “tipping point”or “bridge of no return” (tipping point ). This is a threshold which, once crossed, heavily modifies the state or evolution of a system. For example, once a certain temperature level is reached, scientists expect that the melting of the ice caps will become inevitable.

The Amazon rainforest has passed the point of no return

To return to green new deal and to the idea of ​​ensuring some economic growth, note that this in no way goes against the concept of “sobriety”very fashionable for a few months. First of all, remember that sobriety is in no way synonymous with “degrowth”. The carbon neutrality scenarios envisaged by Ademe, the Agency for Ecological Transition, thus all rely on an increase in economic activity. Thanks, for example, to the consumption of local products and services rather than imported goods with high carbon content.

“CO2 storage is good. Sobriety is even better »

The “sobriety”, it’s simply reducing energy consumption by changing lifestyles and transforming our societies. It is, for example, the end of the lighting of shop windows at night. Sobriety should not be confused either with” energetic efficiency “ . It is just as necessary in the current context. Because it helps to lower our energy consumption. But it refers to all the ways to make a house or a household appliance more energy efficient. At least identical service rendered. By replacing an old heating system with a new one, for example.

The real evils of the climate?

We couldn’t finish this overview without mentioning two concepts that are always – or increasingly – trendy. That of “green washing”And the one of “solastalgia”.

the “green washing”it’s a bit“greenwashing” , the way in which certain companies in particular communicate on the basis of misleading ecological arguments — a green color on packaging, for example — with the sole objective of improving their image. The term appeared in the 1990s. greenwashing participates in the misinformation of the public and since 2021, the practice is quite heavily sanctioned in France.

The term of “solastalgia”– appeared in the 2000s -, finally, was taken up in the last report of the IPCC. It designates a form of distress and psychological suffering linked to the awareness of the ongoing climate change. More generally, ecological emergency. It’s a kind of “eco-anxiety” — a term born as early as the 1990s — compounded and grounded in the present moment. When the idea that the situation is irreversible settles in people’s minds and a strong feeling of guilt and powerlessness accompanies it.

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