Climate Change Glossary

Jan 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Climate Change


Folk art sunset.

Definitions for commonly used climate change terms are provided below. 

Additional definitions are available from Australia’s EPA Victoria.



Term Definition

Corporate GHG Inventory

A total accounting of a company’s or an organization’s operational emissions, which contains all greenhouse gas emissions sources and their quantities.
Carbon emissions Polluting substances released into the atmosphere that include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)

The standard GHG emissions reporting metric. Each GHG has a different global warming potential; for simplicity of reporting, the mass of each gas emitted is commonly translated into a carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) amount so that the total impact from all sources can be summed to one figure.

Operational control approach

One of two ways to define organizational boundaries; the approach preferred by most reporting registries. If the company maintains full authority to introduce and implement operating policies at a facility or operation, then it should be included in the GHG inventory.
Base year The first recorded GHG inventory for the company or organization, against which emissions are tracked over time.
Scope 1 emissions The sources of polluting substances.GHG emissions that result from sources owned or controlled by the company. Direct emissions include

  • On-site fuel combustion.
  • Refrigerants.
  • Fugitive emissions.
 Scope 2 emissions GHG emissions that result from the generation of purchased electricity. Indirect emissions include

  • Eelectricity.
  • Steam purchases.
 Scope 3 emissions GHG emissions that result from sources not owned or controlled by the company but are a consequence of company activity. Other emissions include

  • Use or disposal of products or services.
  • Supply chain or distribution/logistic emissions.
  • Business travel emissions.
  • Employee commuting.
Emissions factors GHG emissions expressed on a per unit activity basis. For example, metric tons of CO2 emitted per million BTUs of coal combusted, or metric tons of CO2 emitted per kWh of electricity consumed.
Global warming potential Cumulative radiation effects of a gas over a specific time, resulting from the emission of a greenhouse gas relative to a reference gas. The GWP-weighted emissions of direct greenhouse gases are presented in terms of equivalent emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2e).

Inventory Management Plan (IMP)

The IMP documents company information, including corporate overview and goals, GHG inventory boundary conditions, emissions quantification methods, data collection and management approaches, and steps for improving the GHG inventory in future years. 
Voluntary reporting

A company may choose to publicly disclose its carbon footprint to voluntary registries, including the Carbon Disclosure ProjectU.S. EPA Climate Leaders, The Carbon Registry and Climate Counts. Each registry has different reporting requirements; some also involve goal-setting.


About the Author

Kyle Tanger is the founder of ClearCarbon, experts at measuring, managing and monetizing carbon. He has more than 14 years of carbon and energy expertise, having managed the complex greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory efforts of several multi-million dollar companies with combined GHG emissions totaling well over 150 million tons. In 2007, Kyle led supply chain carbon footprint analyses for Wal-Mart’s supply chain initiative pilot in conjunction with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and he continues to work closely with Wal-Mart on its Sustainability Index. Kyle has performed dozens of carbon lifecycle assessments for individual consumer products as well as larger supply chain analyses.

Image: Simple Sunset by Ilco, Izmir, Turkey

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