Energy Transition Glossary

A quick guide to some key terms in the energy transition discussion

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): Seventeen goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 to address the most urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges that face our world.  

Paris Agreement (1.5): A legally binding international treaty on climate change since 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming below 2, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): United Nations body that works with governments and scientific experts all over the world to assess the science of climate change. 

Climate Neutral Finland 2035: The objective of the Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government is for Finland to be carbon-neutral and the first fossil-free welfare society by 2035.

Climate Neutral Europe 2050: The EU aims to be climate-neutral by 2050 - an economy with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. This objective is at the heart of the European Green Deal and in line with the EU’s commitment to global climate action under the Paris Agreement

Biodiversity: The variety and variability of living organisms on the planet or those in a specific habitat or region, including plant and animal species as well as fungi and microorganisms. Biodiversity can be explored at three levels: genetic diversity within species, variety of species, and variety of ecosystems. Biodiversity impacts the organization of ecosystems and quality of air, water, and soil in our environment.

Carbon capture: A process of capturing carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel combustion, human impact, or natural processes to prevent it from entering the atmosphere. The captured carbon often also needs a storage: the combination of carbon capture and storage is called carbon sequestration.

Carbon neutrality*: At a global level, carbon neutrality refers to a state of net-zero carbon emissions, where the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere and removed from it are balanced. At an organization level, carbon neutrality refers to a situation, where the remaining emissions of an organization are fully compensated by GHG reductions or removals, exclusively claimed by the organization, so that the organization’s net contribution is zero.

Climate neutrality*: At a global level, climate neutrality refers to a state of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, where the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions absorbed through natural and artificial sinks is equal to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) emitted. The IPCC defines this further as the concept of a state in which human activities result in no net effect on the climate system.

*Climate-Neutral and Carbon Neutral are sometimes used side-by-side, but there are differences. In Finland and the EU, Carbon Neutrality indicates net zero carbon emissions and net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon negativity: Carbon negativity refers to a state, where the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere is greater than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into it. This results in a negative measurement of CO2 - emissions.

Climate positivity: The beneficial net impact of a company, city, or region in mitigating the climate change, through actions which society considers ‘positive’. It results in reduced or negative emissions, with a comparable, but less used term being ‘climate negativity’.

Carbon sequestration: Process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by natural or artificial means and storing it long-term in solid or liquid form, often in carbon sinks such as forests and oceans.

Carbon sinks: These can be natural environments, such as forests, oceans, and soil, or artificial deposits such as landfills, or carbon capture and storage processes, that absorb higher amounts of carbon from the atmosphere than they release.

Circular economy: A system focused on the full value chain of resources taken from the earth, promoting efficient waste management, the reduction of pollution and the safe re-use and recycling of materials back into products and services. A circular economy prioritises climate neutral solutions over excessive production and consumption.

Critical raw materials (CRMs): Often referring to minerals such as lithium and cobalt as well as rare earth elements (REEs), essential to the economy and in high-risk supply. Used heavily in technology systems, energy production and defence, the European Commission manages a list of CRMs considered vital to the EU economy. The list is updated every three years with the 2020 report listing 30 minerals or mineral groups.

Critical minerals: A critical mineral is a metallic or non-metallic element that is considered vital economically and faces significant global risks related to its’ availability. Many of the renewable infrastructures such as wind turbine and battery technologies for electricity storage require critical minerals, such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, and rare earth elements. Ongoing energy transition and many new energy technologies increase the demand of many critical minerals, contributing to the shortages in supply.

Decarbonization: Reducing the release of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere from industrial processes. Often referring to a decarbonized economy or low-carbon economy which prioritizes energy transition, or the generation of renewable electric energy over burning fossil fuels.

Electrification: Changing the technologies and infrastructures of energy systems to generate electrical energy from low carbon and renewable sources instead of by burning fossil fuels. The process of electrification across the energy system, including the grid, transportation, manufacturing, and other industrial processes, is at the core of contemporary clean energy transition.

Electrolysis: Electrolysis is the process of decomposing ionic compounds into their elements using electrical energy. Electrolysis of water produces hydrogen and oxygen.

Electrolyzer: A device or technology such as electrolyzer cells, that uses electrical energy to spilt water (H20) into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (02) in a process called electrolysis. In energy transition, this technology is used to produce hydrogen.

Emission scenarios: Likely development pathways in the future related to reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They are used in climate change analysis such as modelling, impact assessment, and mitigation. The IPCC has been developing emissions scenario reports since 1990, with the most recent report in 2020.

Energy transition: The process of structural change in global energy production and consumption from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Actions to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases to mitigate climate change are key drivers. This transition includes energy technologies as well as policies, carbon reduction and modified consumption patterns and behaviours.

Fuel Cells: A fuel cell is the electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy of a fuel and an oxidizing agent into electricity. Energy transition is largely focused on switching to clean electrical energy sources, fuel cells are a key technology needed for this, particularly with hydrogen.

Foreign direct investment (FDI): Investment by an individual or organisation from one geopolitical economy into another, often resulting in long-term assets and influence over the values, knowledge, and technology of that enterprise in the resident economy.

Fossil fuels: Coal, Oil and Natural Gas are the main fossil fuels, as they contain hydrocarbons formed deep in the earth over several thousand years from dead organic matter such as plant and animal remains. They are extracted from the earth and burned as combustible fuel to produce energy. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing climate change.

Greenhouse gases (GHG): Natural and Synthetic gases whose properties release heat energy and become trapped in the atmosphere. This trapped thermal energy causes a ‘greenhouse effect’ raising the temperature resulting in global warming and climate change. GHG can be natural compound gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) or human-made fluorinated, or industrial gases such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) perfluorocarbons (PFCs) sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)

Hydrogen (H2): The lightest chemical element, hydrogen is a gas which is colourless, odourless, tasteless, non-toxic, and highly combustible. In 2022, H2 made up less than 2% of the EUs energy consumption, with almost all of this produced with natural gas. Gray Hydrogen produced from natural gas has high carbon dioxide emissions. If the carbon dioxide produced this way is captured and stored, it is known as Blue Hydrogen. In energy transition, the aim is to increase the supply and use of Green Hydrogen, which is produced by clean, renewable energy sources such as Wind, Solar and Hydro power. Pink Hydrogen refers to low-carbon Hydrogen produced through electrolysis powered by nuclear energy.

Methane (CH4): A hydrocarbon (composed of hydrogen and carbon), it is a colourless, odourless and highly flammable gas. Methane is one of the main greenhouse gases (GHG) leading to global warming and climate change. Commonly referred to as Natural Gas, it is often produced as a secondary byproduct in human-influenced processes such as agriculture, fossil fuel mining, and oil and gas systems. It can also be produced by natural processes.

Mitigation: Methods to stop or reverse the negative effects of climate change, mainly by reducing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions or increasing the absorption of emissions back into nature through carbon capture.

Nature positive: An approach to climate change mitigation which goes beyond the net-zero carbon goal to also restore planetary and societal resilience through the improvement and maintenance of natural processes, biodiversity, and regeneration.

Net zero: A balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere.