Our Perspectives

Decoding the alphabet soup of climate change


 woman near waterA woman in Odisha, India on her way to fetch water. Women have been hit hardest by the extreme weather conditions. Many have to walk for long stretches in search of safe drinking water. Photo: Prashanth Vishwanathan/UNDP India

In this blog series, UNDP experts and practitioners share their perspective on issues of climate change, in the lead up to the COP21 climate change conference in Paris in December.

Join any conversation on climate change this year and you’re likely to hear a host of confusing terms and acronyms: INDCs, NAPs, NAMAs, the GCF, COP21. Expanding doesn’t help much: ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’, the ‘21st Conference of the Parties’ – they’re a mouthful and still not immediately clear.

While this terminology was once restricted to technical reports, the terms are increasingly finding their way into newspapers, op-eds and social media. But many people don’t know what they are and insufficient attention has been paid to translating them into something accessible.

This is unfortunate. Alienating people from a cause because we have not sufficiently explained or de-jargonized the language won’t help when global agreements need popular support or when local issues need to be addressed. We need to clarify these terms in a way that people understand.

I say this as somebody who recently jumped into the climate change world. The learning curve has been steep and more than once I’ve had to google a term to figure it out and where it sits in the grand scheme of things. Thankfully, I have very patient and helpful colleagues.

What I’ve learned these last few months is that, while complicated and diplomatically nuanced, each of these terms represents a critical element in the fight against climate change. One only has to look beneath the surface to understand the real-world issues that each addresses.

Let’s look at some of these a little closer:

COP21 – the 21st Conference of the Parties

Otherwise known as the Paris climate change conference, this is the latest in a series of global conferences tackling climate change. The Paris conference will (hopefully) result in a new global agreement on climate change and will kick-start a long-term and global approach to addressing this challenge.

INDCs – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

One of the most important components of the new agreement, these ‘contributions’ will spell out the climate actions/targets that each country, developed and developing, will undertake to tackle climate change. Countries are supposed to submit them by October (dozens have already done so) and the hope is that, when tallied up, they will cumulatively reduce global temperature increase. UNDP is working with partners to get these prepared and submitted.

NAMAs – Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions

NAMAs are actions taken by a country to reduce emissions. An important part of this is that the actions much be nationally appropriate, meaning that what works in one country might not work well in another, so actions have to be tailored. For example, UNDP supports the Philippines on a NAMA that reduces carbon emissions from the rice sector. Rice cultivation is an essential industry and major source of livelihoods for the country, but it’s also a significant source of emissions.

NAP – National Adaptation Plans

Since climate change is already happening, some people and communities are already impacted. NAPs are a way for countries to determine what measures can be employed to help adapt to the existing or predicted impacts. This can include new technologies or methodologies, and covers any and all sectors. In the Sahel, for example, efforts are being made to strengthen drought forecasting and water harvesting.

GCF – Green Climate Fund

The GCF provides funds to developing countries in order to assist them in delivering mitigation and adaptation projects. It currently has pledges of US$10.3 billion and has the potential to become the largest multilateral fund on climate change.


It’s no surprise that climate change language has become so heavy and laden with qualifications and diplomatic nuance. It’s perhaps the most topical issue of our times. Climate change will touch every country and every community in the world, impacting all aspects of society. Such a global concern requires an equally inclusive response, and for that we need everyone on board. Getting there means taking the time to explain the terms and details, and making sure that the issue and the terms are understood and supported by mainstream audiences.

In the lead-up to the COP21 Paris climate change conference, UNDP's experts and practitioners highlight the challenges and opportunities in addressing this global concern. For more information, visit www.undp.org/cop21

Carl Mercer Climate change and disaster risk reduction Energy Environment Climate change Adaptation Sustainable development

UNDP Around the world