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Confused by all the acronyms? The UN (United Nations) proceedings are chock-full of ’em (a contraction, not acronym). But don’t worry! Even Einstein was confused at first, and we can get you up to speed with this handy list!

ESSENTIAL ACRONYMS:

COP15 – The event at which all of the interviews took place. Stands for the “15th Conference of the Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The first COP took place in 1995 in Berlin (COP1) and a yearly COP has been held since. COP16 will take place in Cancún, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December 2010.

IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is a scientific IGO which publishes reports on matters relevant to the implementation of the UNFCCC, with the goal not of influencing, but of informing public policy. It was founded in 1988. As stated in the Principles Governing IPCC Work:

The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.

The IPCC published its Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change in 2007. Its fifth assessment report is set to be finalized in 2014.

LDC – Least Developed Country. A country is considered an LDC if it meets three criteria as defined by the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries:

1) a low-income criterion, based on a three-year average estimate of the gross national income (GNI) per capita (under $750 for inclusion, above $900 for graduation);
2) a human resource weakness criterion, involving a composite Human Assets Index (HAI) based on indicators of: (a) nutrition; (b) health; (c) education; and (d) adult literacy; and
3) an economic vulnerability criterion, involving a composite Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) based on indicators of: (a) the instability of agricultural production; (b) the instability of exports of goods and services; (c) the economic importance of non-traditional activities (share of manufacturing and modern services in GDP); (d) merchandise export concentration; and (e) the handicap of economic smallness (as measured through the population in logarithm); and the percentage of population displaced by natural disasters.

If a country meets these criteria, it is also inherently one of the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. A key issue of the UNFCCC is the adaptation of LDCs to climate-related issues in order to ensure food and water resource security, safety against climate related disasters like flooding and hurricanes, and the preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity in these countries.

UNFCCC – is an international environmental treaty produced at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June of 1992. The objective of the treaty, as stated by Article 2, is “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Stands for “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

Some other important ones:

AOSIS – Alliance of Small Island States. The AOSIS is a coalition of small island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar threats and development challenges posed by environmental change. These threats, as described by the Declaration made at the Maldives Summit, include “sea level rise, more frequent and extreme weather events, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, coastal erosion, and changing precipitation patterns.” The group functions as the voice of these nations, which face the most immediate adverse effects of climate change, although, as Saleemul Huq notes, their pleas have been consistently ignored by developed nations. Their climate goals objectives are notably more stringent than those of the UNFCCC as a whole (for instance, in Copenhagen they called for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in surface temperature, while the Copenhagen Accord notes the scientific view of 2 degrees). AOSIS has 42 member states; 37 are parties to the UN.

CAN – Climate Action Network. The CAN is a global network of some 500 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that promotes government and individual action to limit anthropogenic climate change. CAN members work to achieve this goal through information exchange and the coordinated development of NGO strategy on international, regional, and national climate issues. At COP15, CAN hosted a daily coordinating session to promote the spread of information and hear reports from working groups. As with each COP, the group also produced ECO, a daily paper including responses to daily issues and CAN’s official positions on relevant issues.

CDM – Clean Development Mechanism. The CDM is one of the flexibility mechanisms defined in Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, and, as such, is designed to lower the cost of meeting emissions targets. The mechanism allows countries with emission-reduction commitments to implement emissions-reduction projects in developing nations and count these reductions towards their commitments. These projects can be more cost-effective than a similar project implemented in commitment country, and thus offers an attractive way to help Annex-I countries meet targets. The CDM raises some issues, however, particularly proper monitoring and transparency.

CDR – “Common but differentiated responsibilities.” The phrase originates from Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration, and effectively states that nations each share the common burden of climate reductions, yet based upon historic emissions levels, each nation has a different degree of responsibility. The phrase is often paired with the phrase “on the basis of equity,” which adds economic ability to pay for emissions reductions to the consideration of a nation’s differentiated level of responsibility. Of course, there is no formula for finding a nation’s relative level of responsibility (which would be consistently changing anyway), yet the phrase acts as an overarching ethical concept, under which we can see that a developed nation with a large amount of historic emissions in which it is economically viable to combat climate change is both responsible for the adverse effects of change and capable of paying to help in adaptation and mitigation efforts.

IGO – Intergovernmental Organization. An IGO is formed by a treaty, which is established when ratified by several states, which then become parties to the group and utilize the treaty as their charter. The United Nations is, of course, itself an IGO, however other IGOs are present at COPs, and provide input to the Secretariat upon specialized issues. For example, numerous IGOs have recently presented ideas and proposals on the elements of paragraph 1 of the Bali Action Plan, and due to the paragraphs many points, different IGOs will have different input on the elements (the International Maritime Organization might provide documentation on control of GHGs from International Shipping, where the World Health Organization would provide input on the health of people vulnerable to the humanitarian consequences of climate change, and so on).

IMO – International Maritime Organization. The IMO is the United Nations’ specialized IGO responsible for improving maritime safety and preventing pollution from ships. It currently consists of 169 member states.

LUCF/LULUCF – Land-use change and forestry/Land use, land-use change and forestry. Land use refers to the conversion of natural environment into built environment. Land use change therefore will affect the amount of biomass in existing biomass stocks (e.g., forest, village trees, savanna) and soil carbon stocks. The IPCC estimates that land-use change contributes to a net 1.6 ± 0.8 Gt carbon per year to the atmosphere. Land use also causes habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, all of which have negative impacts on biodiversity. Deforestation is a particular threat, because the created fragmented landscapes often fail to support its former species.

M&E – Monitoring and evaluation.

NGOs – Stands for “Non-Governmental Organization.” The official definition of such an organization is: “is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level;” these groups often work to assist in the empowerment of economically and socially, marginalized groups or to raise awareness of issues. While NGOs did not directly contribute to the negotiations in COP15, they were engaged in other important activities such as lobbying governmental delegates, circulating information, and working with the media. There are several types of NGOs:

  • BINGOs – Stands for “Business and Industry Non-Governmental Organizations.” The BINGOs are one of the loosest constituencies as they cover a wide range of businesses, and thus, a wider range of interests. Generally divided into “green” and “grey” business interests, with green including groups that see climate change mitigation as a business opportunity, like the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and grey including groups that see climate change as a threat to their revenues, such as the fossil fuel industry. Of course, some groups evade classification as either, as many have their individual business interests to uphold. Due to the non-profit requirement of the NGO classification, these groups are often organized specifically to campaign on climate change. They form a constituency in their own right to contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a parallel way to ENGOs (Environment), RINGOs (Research and Independent), IPOs (Indigenous Peoples Organizations), and LGMAs (Local Governmental and Municipal Authorities), all discussed below.
  • ENGOs – Stands for “Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations.” Goals of these organizations include: offering training and assistance in agricultural conservation to maximize the use of local resources, establishing environmental solutions, and managing projects implemented to address issues affecting a particular area. Includes groups like Greenpeace, WWF, and the Environmental Investigation Agency.
  • IPOs – Stands for “Indigenous Peoples Organizations.” Emerged post-Kyoto after the realization that the climate change regime was addressing issues of importance to the indigenous peoples without their input. This constituency is coordinated by the International Alliance of Indigenous-Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests, and has, since its inception, worked at the COPs to organize side events, hold interventions, and organize meetings with subsidiary body Chairs and COP Presidents to facilitate increased participation of these groups in the decision-making process.
  • LGMAs – Stands for “Local Governmental and Municipal Authorities.” Technically, these groups are local-, rather than non-governmental organizations, and have traditionally sought different status. They are organized by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). They normally work on local issues to combat climate change, but have also joined to perform larger-scale efforts, such as the October 2003 issuing of a joint declaration from 155 mayors of U.S. cities calling for stronger action on climate change by the federal government.
  • RINGOs – Stands for “Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations.” RINGOs are organizations engaged in independent research and analysis aimed at developing sound strategies to address both the causes and consequences of global climate change.

REDD – Stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” in Developing Countries. The IPCC estimates that deforestation contributes to roughly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. REDD programs should therefore be an important contribution to overall greenhouse gas reductions, if implemented properly. A properly functioning REDD program would provide revenue to indigenous peoples in developing nations in return for maintenance of forested areas; The UN-REDD Programme is therefore aimed at tipping the economic balance in favour of sustainable management of forests. REDD programs were an important aspect of the Copenhagen Accord, which agreed on the need to “provide positive incentives to such actions through the immediate establishment of a mechanism including REDD-plus.” Click for interviews regarding REDD.

WHO – World Health Organization. The WHO is an IGO and specialized agency of the UN that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health.

WMO – World Meteorological Organization. The WMO is an IGO and specialized agency of the UN that acts as a coordinating authority on meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences. The WMO jointly helped charter the IPCC with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1988.

WRI – World Resources Institute. An American NGO that works to combat climate change.

WWF – Worldwide Fund for Nature. An international NGO working on conservation, research, and restoration of the environment.


About Brett Shollenberger

Brett '350' Shollenberger is a 2011 graduate of Dickinson College. He has recently conducted a review of Dickinson's Climate Action Plan, served as lead author on a climate ethics thesis for the Penn State Rock Ethics Conference and presented at the 2010 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference. You should give him a job! Brett Shollenberger Brett's Blog!