Net zero, carbon emissions, adaptability: Terms you should know as India gears up for extreme air pollution in Diwali season

Tomorrow is Diwali, the festival of lights. Unfortunately, this is also the time that pollution levels spike countrywide, especially north India.

Here's a cheat sheet for the terms that are likely to be in the air as Diwali is celebrated in India and abroad, when global attention is on COP26, and the talk inevitably turns to pollution and climate change.


First off, let’s start with the name of the summit itself.

It stands for the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. The meeting will bring together world leaders, scientists, NGOs and activists to push towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

More than 120 world leaders are expected to attend, with more than 25,000 delegates from 197 countries, in the biggest diplomatic event on British soil since World War II.

Paris Agreement

Signed in 2015, it is an international treaty that committed 195 signing nations to meeting climate targets. The main goal of the Paris agreement is to limit global heating to “well below” two degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” to stay within the lower, safer threshold of 1.5 degree Celsius. The agreement also wants signing nations to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted on 11 December 1997 but owing to a complex ratification process, it entered into force on 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol operationalises the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialised countries and economies in transition to limit and cut greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets. The Kyoto Protocol only binds developed countries, and places a heavier burden on them under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities”, because it recognises that they are largely responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere.

1.5 degree Celsius

What is the big deal about this 1.5 degree Celsius?

This was a goal set by the Paris Agreement to limit the average global temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

These temperature goals have their roots in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. Maintaining a 1.5 degree Celsius increase or less means a milder impact on ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as fewer extreme weather events.

Greenhouse gas emissions

No talk on climate change can be complete without the mention of greenhouse gas emissions. Basically, they are gases that trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere. The most common greenhouse gas emission is carbon dioxide, which is primarily emitted via human activity.

Net zero emissions

This means removing as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as what's emitted, so the net amount added is zero.

To do this, countries and people are trying to plant more trees or restoring grasslands to soak up carbon dioxide (CO2). Dozens of countries have already pledged to achieve net zero by mid-century and there is huge pressure on countries that haven't yet to do so by COP26.

Carbon Capture

The simple way to explain this is any process being used to capture carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere. New technology is being created to literally suck carbon from the air.

Clean energy

Clean energy is energy that comes from natural sources or from processes that are continuously replenished. Wind and solar power are the best examples of clean or renewable energy.


This refers to the way humans can change their lives to better cope with the impacts of climate change. These might include building early warning systems for floods or barriers to defend against rising sea levels. In some places where rainfall is decreasing, planting drought-resistant varieties of crops can help ensure communities have enough food to eat.


Mitigation as the word suggests is how humans can reduce greenhouse gas emissions or remove them from the atmosphere.

Examples of mitigation would be switching from coal and gas to sources such as wind or solar power or choosing public transport over commuting in private vehicles or even expanding forest cover.

Climate finance

In 2009 at the Copenhagen COP, developing countries were promised that they would receive at least $100 billion a year in climate finance from 2020, from public and private sectors. But the 2020 target was missed, and filling the gap is high on the agenda for the talks in Glasgow.

Developing nations, particularly those in the Global South, which are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, argue that industrialised nations are historically more responsible for climate change and must do more to fund changes to help developing nations adapt.

With inputs from agencies

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