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Important Terminology

The following words and phrases are used frequently in this Guide:
  • Adaptation to climate change means making adjustments in natural or human systems to moderate harm or to take advantage of benefits arising out of actual or expected climatic changes.
  • Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system, region or community to adapt.
  • Vulnerability means how susceptible social, economic and environmental systems are to the adverse effects of climate change or climate variability.

Adaptation to climate change aims to reduce vulnerability to the adverse effects, and to enhance adaptive capacity.

Full Glossary

Adaptation - Adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment. Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climate or its effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities (Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. IPCC, TAR, 2001)

Adaptation benefits - the avoided damage costs or the benefits following the adoption and imple-mentation of adaptation measures. (IPCC TAR, 2001)

Adaptation costs - costs of planning, preparing for, facilitating, and implementing adaptation measures. (IPCC TAR, 2001)

Adaptive capacity - the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or cope with the consequences. (IPCC TAR, 2001)

Adverse effects - one or more of:
  • reduction of the quality of the natural environment for any use that can be made of it;
  • injury or damage to property or plant or animal life;
  • harm or material discomfort to any person;
  • an adverse effect on the health of any person;
  • impairment of the safety of any person;
  • making any property or plant or animal life unfit for human use;
  • loss of enjoyment of normal use of property; and
  • interference with normal conduct of business.
Climate change - a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods. (UNFCCC)

Climate scenario - projection of future climatic conditions.

Climate variability - climate variability refers to fluctuations in climate over a shorter term - the departures from long-term averages or trends, over seasons or a few years, such as those caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon. (UNFCCC)

Consequences - Risk is often expressed as the product of the consequences flowing from an event and the frequency of the event. In this manual, we use the term “impacts” for consistency with the terminology of climate change.

Dialogue - a process for two-way communication that fosters shared understanding. It is supported by information.

Hazard - a source of potential harm, or a situation with a potential for causing harm, in terms of human injury; damage to health, property, the environment, and other things of value; or some combination of these.

Hazard identification - the process of recognizing that a hazard exists and defining its characteristics.

IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A large (several thousand) group of qualified experts which reviews and assesses periodically, all climate change research published in many countries.

Impact - Something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition related to climate change or climate variability.

Kyoto Protocol - an agreement (1997) under the UNFCCC by most countries of the world, by which most developed countries will begin to limit their greenhouse gas emissions by 2008 to 2012.

Loss - an injury or damage to health, property, the environment, or something else of value.

Organization - a company, corporation, firm, enterprise, or institution, or part thereof, whether incorporated or not, public or private, that has its own functions and administration.

Residual risk - the risk remaining after all risk control strategies have been applied.

Risk - the chance of injury or loss defined as a product of the frequency of occurrence and the severity of the consequence such as an adverse effect to health, property, the environment, or other things of value. The level of risk is also affected by how it is perceived by stakeholders.

Risk analysis - the use of information to identify hazards and to estimate the chance for, and severity of, injury or loss to individuals or populations, property, the environment, or other things of value.

Risk assessment - the overall process of risk analysis and risk evaluation.

Risk communication - any two-way communication between stakeholders about the existence, nature, form, severity, or acceptability of risks.

Risk control option - an action intended to reduce the probability and/or severity of injury or loss, including a decision not to pursue the activity.

Risk control strategy - a program that may include the application of several risk control options.

Risk estimation - the activity of estimating the frequency or probability and consequence of risk scenarios, including a consideration of the uncertainty of the estimates.

Risk evaluation - the process by which risks are examined in terms of costs and benefits, and evaluated in terms of acceptability of risk considering the needs, issues, and concerns of stakeholders.

Risk information library - a collection of all information developed through the risk management process. This includes information on the risks, decisions, stakeholder views, meetings and other information that may be of value.

Risk management - the systematic application of management policies, procedures, and practices to the tasks of analysing, evaluating, controlling, and communicating about risk issues.

Risk perception - the significance assigned to risks by stakeholders. This perception is derived from the stakeholders' expressed needs, issues, and concerns.

Risk scenario - a defined sequence of events with an associated frequency or probability and consequences.

Stakeholder - any individual, group, or organisation able to affect, be affected by, or believe it might be affected by, a decision or activity. The decision-makers are also stakeholders.

Stakeholder analysis - Identification of individuals or groups who are likely to have an interest in the risk management issue including a consideration of what their needs issues and concerns would be and how the stakeholder should be included in the process.

TAR - Third Assessment Report of the IPCC

UNFCCC - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992)

Vulnerability - the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is the function of the character, size, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity. (Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. IPCC TAR, 2001)

Definitions are drawn from the Canadian standard "Risk Management: Guidelines for Decision-Makers" (CAN/CSA-Q850-97) unless otherwise specified.

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