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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 17:44 GMT
Climate change glossary
The science of climate change can seem easy. Even the politics of who should clean up their act are relatively simple. The really hard part is understanding the acronyms, the technical terms, and the impenetrable jargon that is the stock in trade of climate change conferences. BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby tries to hack his way through the thickets:

The Kyoto Protocol is the international agreement on tackling climate change, drawn up in Japan in 1997. It was an elaboration of the UNFCCC, the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, which dates back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil.

Remember, if you want to impress delegates, to talk about climate change, which means all sorts of expected effects - warming in some parts of the world, cooling in others, sea levels rising, fiercer weather. If you talk about global warming, that suggests you just think we're all going to top up our tans and grow vines in the Arctic.

And if you insist on referring to the greenhouse effect, please remember that that's entirely natural: if the atmosphere hadn't been trapping a lot of the Sun's energy near the Earth's surface since time immemorial, our microbial ancestors would never have been able to colonise the planet. The key questions are whether the greenhouse effect has now gone beyond what Nature intended, whether it matters if it has, and whether we are to blame.

The key researchers are the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and their answer to each of those three questions is "yes", though with some qualifications - they think solar activity is also affecting our climate, for instance.

What various meetings over the last few years have been about is the working details of the Protocol, and it is important because it will have to make sure they are credible before countries that have signed it will ratify it. And until it has been ratified, it remains little more than a piece of paper.

The main topics at these meetings have been: carbon sequestration, ways to store the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, by planting trees to soak it up, or possibly by pumping it into underground reservoirs; compliance with the protocol, and what penalties there could be for backsliders; transfers of technology and finance to developing countries; possible compensation for fossil fuel exporting countries whose markets could shrink; and flexibility mechanisms.

"Flex mex" sound daunting - they include joint implementation, emissions trading, and clean development mechanisms. At their simplest, they are ways which will allow rich countries to achieve some of their greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by investing in reductions in other countries, not at home.

So a country in western Europe might decide to buy rights or credits to emit carbon from one in eastern Europe which could not afford the fuel that would emit the carbon in the first place. Or a developed country might pay one in Africa to install renewable energy equipment. It sounds sensible, but it could mean that the most polluting countries went on gaily spewing out carbon without a care.

Anyway, now we've run through the easy ones, here are a few other jargon-heavy gobbets with which to impress your listeners (or send them cowering for mercy, more likely):

Annex 1 countries are the 38 industrialised countries, plus the European Union, committed to making cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at this stage. Developing countries are not committed yet.

Anthropogenic climate impacts are those caused by us, not by Nature.

AOSIS is the Alliance of Small Island States, an understandably vocal grouping given that rising sea levels are of more than academic interest to them.

A bubble is not what you might expect it to be. It is a system which lets several countries meet a reduction target together while having different individual targets.

The Byrd-Hagel Resolution was a decision by the US Senate not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol unless it involved "meaningful" participation by developing countries. They argue in their turn that they don't see why they should slow their development by curbing their emissions when they didn't cause the problem in the first place.

Greenhouse gases - apart from our old friend carbon dioxide, the main anthropogenic ones are methane and nitrous oxide.

JUSSCANNZ - a handy way of describing Japan, the US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand, the negotiating bloc for the non-EU developed countries. If you add Russia, you can call them the Umbrella Group.

LULUCF stands for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry activities, all designed to increase carbon stores, or sinks, and so make sequestration easier.

That should be enough jargon to be going on with. Almost certainly, though, there will be more.

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