Glossary of Terms

AdaptationAdaptation is a means of responding to the impacts of climate change. It is “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects”.It aims to moderate the impacts as well as to take advantage of new opportunities or to cope with the consequences of new conditions.
Adaptive CapacityAdaptive capacity refers to the varying characteristics that determine how a climate event is experienced. It refers to the ability of systems, institutions, humans, and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences. The capacity to adapt is dependent on a region’s socio-economic and environmental situation as well as the availability of information and technology. Adaptive capacity can reflect the status of poverty, health, knowledge/education, and governance.
ClimateClimate refers to the average of individual weather conditions in an area, taken over sufficiently long periods of time.
Climate ActionClimate Action (or Response Action) refers to “stepped-up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-induced impacts, including: climate-related hazards in all countries; integrating climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning; and improving education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity with respect to climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning”.
Climate AnomalyA climate anomaly refers to the difference between the average climate over a period of the last several decades and the projected climate.
Climate ChangeClimate change refers to a change in the average weather experienced in a particular region or location. The change may occur over periods ranging from decades to millennia. It may affect one or more seasons (e.g. summer, winter or the whole year) and involve changes in one or more aspects of the weather, e.g. rainfall, temperature or winds. Its causes may be natural (e.g. due to periodic changes in the earth’s orbit, volcanoes and solar variability) or attributable to human activities, e.g. increasing emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2, land use change and/or emissions of aerosols. Commonly, the term ‘climate change’ often refers to changes due to anthropogenic causes.
Climate VariabilityClimate variability refers to variations in climate on all spatial and temporal scales beyond that of individual weather events. This variability may be caused by natural internal processes within the climate system. One of the most important (and widely known) examples of natural climate variability is the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Variations may also be caused by external influences which may be due to naturally-occurring phenomena (such as periodic changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun).
Climate-smart Disaster Risk ReductionClimate-smart disaster risk reduction (CSDRM) has been borne out the need to integrate disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. CSDRM is considered as the initial step to adapting to climate change and variability, providing policymakers with practical measures to allocate resources to reduce current and future risks at all levels.
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. On 31 December 2019, a cluster of pneumonia cases was reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. On 9 January 2020, China CDC reported a novel coronavirus as the causative agent of this outbreak, which has been named ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2’ (SARS-CoV-2). The coronavirus disease associated with it is referred to as COVID -19.
DatabaseDatabase refers to a structured set of data that is accessible in various ways.
DisasterA disaster is a progressive or sudden, widespread or localised, natural or human-caused incident that causes or threatens to cause death, injury or disease, flooded street damage to property, infrastructure or the environment, or disruption of the life of a community, and is of a scale that exceeds the ability of those affected by the disaster to cope with the effects using only their own resources.​
Disaster Risk ManagementDisaster risk management (DRM) refers to the “integrated multisectoral and multidisciplinary administrative, organisational and operational planning processes and capacities aimed at lessening the impacts of natural hazards and related environmental, technological and biological disasters”. Disaster risk management includes all forms of activities to avoid (prevention) or to limit (mitigation and preparedness) the adverse effects of hazards.
Disaster Risk ReductionDisaster risk reduction (DRR) is defined as the process of “reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events”. DRR includes all forms of activities to avoid (prevention) or to limit (mitigation and preparedness) the adverse effects of hazards.
DisplacedNumber of people whose house is destroyed or heavily damaged and therefore need shelter after an event.
DroughtDroughts may refer to “meteorological drought (below average precipitation), hydrological drought (low river flows and water levels in rivers, lakes and groundwater), agricultural drought (low soil moisture), and environmental drought (a combination of the above)”.
Early Warning SystemAn early warning system (EWS) refers to “the set of capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities and organizations threatened by a hazard to prepare and to act appropriately and in sufficient time to reduce the possibility of harm or loss”.
EarthquakeSudden movement of a block of the Earth’s crust along a geological fault and associated ground shaking.
El Niño-Southern OscillationThe El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a recurring natural climate phenomenon that is caused by abnormal warming in sea surface temperatures across the Equatorial Pacific is usually associated with high temperatures and below normal rainfall in the southern hemisphere.
Emissions TargetA carbon emissions target is the reductions required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.
EnsembleAn ensemble of models is used to project different (but equally plausible) climate futures.
EpidemicEither an unusual increase in the number of cases of an infectious disease, which already exists in the region or population concerned; or the appearance of an infection previously absent from a region.
Estimated DamageThe amount of damage to property, crops, and livestock. In EM-DAT estimated damage are given in US$ (‘000). For each disaster, the registered figure corresponds to the damage value at the moment of the event, i.e. the figures are shown true to the year of the event.
ExposureExposure refers to the presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places and settings that could be adversely affected.
Extreme EventAn extreme (weather or climate) event is the unusual, severe or unseasonal occurrence of a weather or climate variable at the extremes of the historically observed values; the range that has been observed in the past.
Extreme TemperatureExtreme temperature refers to both cold waves and heat waves.
FloodFloods refer to riverine, flash and coastal flood events and in South Africa are the result of tropical cyclones, cut-off lows, and thunderstorms which cause heavy rainfall and high runoff volumes.
Geographic information systems (GIS)Analysis that combine relational databases with spatial interpretation and outputs often in form of maps. A more elaborate definition is that of computer programmes for capturing, storing, checking, integrating, analysing and displaying data about the earth that is spatially referenced. Geographical information systems are increasingly being utilised for hazard and vulnerability mapping and analysis, as well as for the application of disaster risk management measures.
Global Climate ModelGlobal Climate Models or global circulation models (GCMs), refer to complex computer models represent interactions between the different components of the climate system, such as the land surface, the atmosphere and the oceans. GCMs simulate climate under a range of emission scenarios each representing a plausible future.
Global WarmingGlobal warming refers only to the overall warming of the Earth, based on average increases in temperature over the entire land and ocean surface. Climate change is more than simply an increase in global temperatures; it encompasses changes in regional climate characteristics, including temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind, and extreme weather events, which have economic and social dimensions.
Greehhouse GasGreenhouse Gas refers to a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation. Examples include carbon dioxide, methane and chlorofluorocarbons.
Growing SeasonMoisture Growing Season refers to the amount of water in the soil for sustained plant growth to take during the primary growing season. The data presented here was determined by adapting a simple water budgeting approach of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in 1978, developed originally for agro-ecological zone mapping of Africa.
HazardA hazard refers to the physical parameters (e.g. rainfall or temperature) that may cause property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, economic disruption, or environmental damage. A hazard can be incremental temperature or precipitation change, which unfolds gradually over a long time, or it can refer to weather-related hazards, such as droughts, floods and heat waves.
ImpactImpacts, in the context of this website, refer to the effects of climate change on natural and human systems.
IndicatorIndicator refers to numbers and scales that track the state or level of some aspect of a system. An indicator in the context of SARVA refers to a measure or proxy of adaptive capacity or susceptibility which will inform vulnerability of an economy, community, infrastructure or environment to global change hazards. Examples of climate change indicators include the global average temperature, greenhouse gas emissions, sea-level rise.
LandslideAny kind of moderate to rapid soil movement incl. lahar, mudslide, debris flow. A landslide is the movement of soil or rock controlled by gravity and the speed of the movement usually ranges between slow and rapid, but not very slow. It can be superficial or deep, but the materials have to make up a mass that is a portion of the slope or the slope itself. The movement has to be downward and outward with a free face.
MitigationMitigation refers to the measures taken to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and to enhance sinks (i.e. ways of reducing) of greenhouse gases.
Monitoring and EvaluationMonitoring and Evaluation (M&E) refers to the process that helps improve current and future management and achieve outcomes. It is a tool to support the understanding and prioritization of actions to assist decision making. M&E is critical in ensuring the long-term success of climate adaptation initiatives, plans and actions.
Natural HazardNatural processes or phenomena occurring in the biosphere that may constitute a damaging event.Natural hazards can be classified by origin namely: geological, hydrometeorological or biological. Hazardous events can vary in magnitude or intensity, frequency, duration, area of extent, speed of onset, spatial dispersion and temporal spacing.
PandemicA pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease affecting a substantial number of people. Pandemics are generally classified as epidemics first.
PercentilePercentile is a measure used in statistics indicating the value below which a given percentage of observations in a group of observations falls. Examples used in climate change science include the 95th percentile, 50th percentile (median), and 25th percentile range of models.
PreparednessActivities and measures taken in advance to ensure effective response to the impact of hazards, including the issuance of timely and effective early warnings and the temporary evacuation of people and property from threatened locations.
ProjectionClimate Change Projection is a statement of a possible (hopefully likely) future state of the climate system dependent on the evolution of a set of key factors over time (e.g. carbon dioxide emissions).
Radiative ForcingRadiative forcing is a measure of the energy absorbed and retained in the lower atmosphere.
Regional Climate ModelRegional Climate Model is a dynamic climate model (either a limited-area model or variable resolution global model) is nested/nudged within a GCM.
Representative Concentration PathwaysRepresentative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) are four greenhouse gas concentration trajectories adopted by the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report and describe four possible climate futures. The RCP’s are named according to their 2100 radiative forcing level. There are four pathways - RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6.0 and RCP8.5.
ResilienceResilience is defined as the capacity for a socio-ecological system to (a) absorb stresses and maintain normal functioning in the face of external stress and (b) to adapt in order to be better prepared for future impacts.
RiskRisk refers to the likelihood of an adverse impact from an event. Risk is often represented as the probability of occurrence of hazardous events or trends multiplied by the impacts if these events or trends occur. Risk results from the interaction of vulnerability, exposure, and hazard.
SensitivitySensitivity is the degree to which a system or species is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate variability or change. The effect may be direct (e.g., a change in crop yield in response to a change in the mean, range, or variability of temperature) or indirect (e.g., damages caused by an increase in the frequency of coastal flooding due to sea level rise).
Statistical DownscalingStatistical Downscaling refers to the process where large-scale climate features are statistically related to local climate for a region – historical observations are utilised.
StormStorms refer to tropical, extra-tropical and convective storm events as well as coastal storm surges.
Sustainable Development GoalsThe Sustainable Development Goals are a collection of 17 global goals designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
Technological hazardsRefers to hazards that stem from technological or industrial conditions. This includes accidents, dangerous procedures, infrastructure deficiencies, and specific human activities that can cause death, injury, disease, or other health impacts, as well as jeopardize property, livelihood, and services, provoke social or economic disorder, and cause environmental damage. Examples include industrial pollution, nuclear activities and radioactivity, toxic wastes, dam failures; transport, industrial or technological accidents (explosions, fires, spills).
Technology Needs AssessmentTechnology Needs Assessment identifies a country's development priorities in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate.
TrendA trend is the average rate of increase or decrease of a time-series of data. It is normally determined by simple linear regression.
UncertaintyUncertainty does not mean that we have no confidence in our projections of future climate, rather, it implies there is a probability or level of confidence associated with a particular outcome.
VulnerabilityVulnerability is the “propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt”.
WeatherWeather describes the set of meteorological phenomena we experience on a daily basis. Weather conditions might be sunny and hot, or cloudy and rainy. We expect changes in weather to occur from day to day.
WildfireWildfires refer to any uncontrolled and non-prescribed burning of plants in a natural setting. The occurrence of fires is closely linked with high temperatures and dry spells and are generally the result of deliberate or accidental actions of people.
Environmental RiskEnvironmental risks include extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem changes, major natural hazards such as earthquakes, and man-made environmental damage such as pollution and oil spills.
Social RiskSocial risks include actions that affect communities of people (e.g. employees, customers, local municipalities, residents)
Technology RiskTechnology risk is any potential for technology failures to disrupt the normal functioning of businesses, settlements, people, such as information security incidents or service outages
Composite Risk (multi-hazard)Composite hazards include the risks from the simultaneous occurrence of multiple individual hazards (e.g. cholera outbreak after a flood event)
Political RiskPolitical risks include political decisions, events, or conditions that will significantly affect the profitability of a business, forigen investment, or the expected value of a given economic action
Economic RiskEconomic risk centers on macroeconomic circumstances like exchange rates, government regulation, or political stability that will affect investment and domestic growth potential