Familiarity with terminology is crucial to understanding any subject, from legislative language to scientific nomenclature. This glossary consists of terms that are often used in the low-emissions development (LED) agriculture sphere.



The reduction in emissions or increase in removals caused by a mitigation activity or activities promoted by a project, which is additional to the baseline scenario. Additionality is a principle of carbon markets that ensures carbon credits are assigned only to mitigation that is beyond what would have been achieved under business-as-usual conditions.

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Activity data

Information about the magnitude of an action that produces emissions or emissions removals for a given period of time. Examples of activity data in agriculture include a number of livestock or the level of fertilizer use. Multiplying activity data by an emission factor yield level of emissions.

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Afforestation / Reforestation (A/R)

Planting of trees on land without trees to create a forested area. Reforestation is the establishment of forest on land that had recent tree cover, whereas afforestation occurs on land planting of new forests on lands that, historically, have not contained forest.

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Agricultural land

Land used to produce crops or livestock, which may include cropland, grassland, or agroforestry.

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Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU)

Six broad land-use categories defined by the 2006 IPCC guidelines to report emissions and removals from land-use and land-use conversions (strictly, these are a mix of “land-use” and “land cover”): forest land, cropland, grassland, wetlands, settlements, and other land uses.

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The management of trees and agriculture, including the agricultural use of trees. Agroforestry comprises trees on farms and in agricultural landscapes, farming in forests and along forest margins and tree-crop production, including cocoa, coffee, rubber and oil palm.

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Alternate wetting and drying (AWD)

Management practice in irrigated rice characterized by the periodic drying of the rice field to a certain threshold, usually 15 cm below the soil surface, and re-flooding. AWD reduces water use by 30% and methane emissions 30-70% while maintaining yields. A perforated tube placed in the soil enables the farmer to monitor the water level below the soil surface to determine when to irrigate.

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Base year

The year against which changes are measured, such as changes in emissions.


A state relative to which changes are observed. Can be relative to a base year, base period, or future baseline.

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Baseline period

A time period relative to which changes such as mitigation are observed. The average value during the period is used as the baseline value. Not to be confused with a baseline scenario.

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Baseline scenario

A reference scenario representing future events or conditions most likely to occur in the absence of mitigation actions. Not to be confused with a baseline period. Typically compared against mitigation scenarios. Also, see business-as-usual (BAU).

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Biennial Update Reports (BURs)

Reports submitted every two years to the UNFCCC by non-Annex I Parties (low- and middle-income countries), containing updates of national GHG inventories, including a national inventory report and information on mitigation actions, needs and support received. BURs provide updates on actions undertaken by a UNFCCC Party to implement the Convention, including the status of its GHG emissions and removals by sinks and the actions to reduce emissions or enhance sinks.

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A carbon-rich product that results from heating biomass in the absence of oxygen. Used as a soil amendment to increase soil health, productivity, and carbon.

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Energy from biomass as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. Biomass can be either forest or agricultural residues or waste.


Gases, primarily methane, produced when organic material (typically manure) is anaerobically digested by microorganisms and bacteria. This gas can be used as fuel.

Biological nitrification inhibition (BNI)

The ability of certain plant roots to suppress soil-nitrifier activity through the production and release of nitrification inhibitors. BNI in livestock and cropping systems can reduce nitrous oxide emissions from the soil in this way without decreasing yields.

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Above-ground and below-ground organic material that stores carbon. Aerobic degradation of biomass releases carbon dioxide (CO2).

Business as usual scenario (BAU)

A reference scenario representing future events or conditions most likely to occur in the absence of mitigation actions. Also, see baseline scenario.

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Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Removal of carbon dioxide from industrial and energy-related sources and storage of the gas in a manner that isolates it from the atmosphere, with the intention of reducing climate change.

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Carbon credit

A value assigned to a reduction or offset of GHG emissions, usually equal to one ton of CO2 equivalent. Carbon credits serve as a unit for trading.

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Carbon dioxide (CO2)

A major GHG. Carbon dioxide accounts for about 65% of global GHG emissions. Besides fossil fuel use, CO2 is released from deforestation, land clearing, and degradation of soils.

Learn more  Other GHGs

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)

A metric used to compare emissions of various GHGs. It is the mass of carbon dioxide that would produce the same estimated radiative force as the given mass of another GHG. CO2e is computed by multiplying the mass of the gas emitted by its global warming potential (see GWP).

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Carbon market

A mechanism for pricing and trading of carbon credits. Carbon markets are developed to create incentives to reduce emissions.

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Carbon pricing

An incentive system that assigns a monetary cost to carbon, thereby creating an incentive for reducing emissions.

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Carbon sequestration

In the land-use sector, when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is removed and stored for long periods in biomass or the soil.

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Carbon stock

The amount of carbon present in a system, such as the soil or biomass.

Climate change adaptation

Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.

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Climate change mitigation

A human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of GHGs.

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Climate change resilience

The capacity of a system to withstand climate shocks and external pressures while maintaining its basic structure, processes, and functions. Resilient systems have a buffering capacity, which enhances their ability to adapt to changes, learn from past mistakes, and recover from disturbances. Resilient food systems support access to nutritious and culturally acceptable food in the face of climate disturbance and change.

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Climate-smart agriculture (CSA)

Agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces GHG emissions (mitigation) where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.

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Conference of the Parties (COP)

The supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC. All states that are Parties to the Convention are represented at the COP, where they review the implementation of the Convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts and make decisions for the implementation of the Convention, including institutional and administrative arrangements.

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Conservation agriculture

An approach to agricultural management based on minimum soil disturbance (less than 25%), retention of crop residues or other soil surface cover, and use of crop rotation.

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Cover crops

Grasses, legumes, and other plants used for erosion control, improving soil structure, moisture, and nutrient content, increasing beneficial soil biota, suppressing weeds, providing habitat for beneficial predatory insects, facilitating crop pollinators, providing wildlife habitat, and as forage for farm animals. Cover crops can add carbon, and sometimes nitrogen, to the soil.

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Crop residue

The material left behind after a crop is harvested or processed, including stalks, husks, or foliage.

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Crop rotation

The soil management practice of growing a series of different crops in the same field over time.


Displacement / leakage

Produced from a change in land use or land management that causes a positive or negative change in emissions elsewhere. This can occur within or across national boundaries, and the efficacy of mitigation practices must consider the leakage implications.

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Ecosystem service

Benefit humans obtain from the natural environment, including provisioning services such as food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling.

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Emission factor

Mass of GHG per unit activity. Also called carbon stock change factor when applied to carbon.

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Emission flux

The rate at which GHGs are emitted by a specified area, measured as mass/time-area. Net flux is the difference between the amount of a gas emitted to the atmosphere from sources, such as nitrous oxide from fertilizer or methane from cattle, and the amount of gas removed from the atmosphere by sinks, such as the soil or biomass.

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Emission intensity

Emissions per unit produced or per level of the economic value of a product, in contrast to emissions per hectare. Can be considered a metric of the emission efficiency of a production system.

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Enteric fermentation

The digestive process by which carbohydrates are broken down by microorganisms into simple molecules for absorption into the bloodstream of an animal. This process produces methane and usually occurs in ruminants.


Nutrient pollution, or the excessive increase of nutrients, such as nitrogen fertilizer in lakes, coastal waters, and other ecosystems. Eutrophication can cause harmful algae blooms, dead biological zones, fish kills, and increased nitrous oxide and methane emissions.

Learn more  Emissions from eutrophication


Food loss and waste (FLW)

Reduced edible food mass in the supply chain or available to consumers. Loss occurs in the supply chain while food waste occurs at the retail and consumption stage.

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Food security

A condition in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Learn more  FAO Policy Brief


Global warming potential (GWP)

The relative effect of the six Kyoto Protocol GHGs on the atmosphere, for the same level of emissions. Defined scientifically as the cumulative radiative forcing effect of a gas over a specified time period resulting from the emission of 1 kilogram of a gas relative to 1 kilogram of a reference gas (e.g., CO2 equivalent). GWP is a relative scale where carbon dioxide equals 1. The GWP changes according to the time horizon used.

Learn more  IPCC report on radiative forcing  Other metrics for comparing emissions

Grazing management

The planning, implementation, and monitoring of animal grazing to achieve sustained animal, plant, land, environmental, and economic results under a range of environmental conditions.

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Greenhouse gas (GHG)

Gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of thermal infrared radiation emitted by the Earth's surface, the atmosphere itself, and clouds. Agriculture contributes methane and nitrous oxide emissions to the atmosphere, as well as carbon dioxide from the soil or biomass and use of energy. IPCC Definition

Greenhouse gas calculator

Simple accounting tools that use a mix of emission factors and empirical models to calculate GHG emissions with minimal input data.

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Integrated Assessment Model (IAM)

Coupling of detailed models of the energy system (energy, environment, economy, E3) and land-use technologies with simplified economic and climate science models to evaluate different population, economic and technological pathways, allowing an assessment of the feasibility of achieving specific climate change mitigation goals.

Learn more  IAM and E3 Models

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

An advisory body that provides governments with the state of current science to inform climate policies. Established in 1988, the IPCC is an organization of governments that are members of the United Nations or the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

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Irrigated rice

Rice production method where controlled amounts of water are applied to rice fields.

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Kyoto Protocol

A legal agreement under the UNFCCC that commits industrialized countries and economies to limit and reduce GHG emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets, and establish a rigorous measurement, verification, and reporting (MRV) system to hold its parties accountable. Adopted in 1997 and came into force in 2005.

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Long-term strategy (LTS)

Parties' to the Paris Agreement “mid-century long-term low GHG emissions development strategies” or “long-term strategies” (LTS) are central to achieving the goal of reaching net-zero global emissions, limiting warming, and preventing some of the worst impacts of climate change. Indeed, long-term strategies play a key role in the transition toward net-zero emissions and climate-resilient economies. These strategies set out long-term goals for climate and development and direct short-term decision-making to support the necessary shifts to limit global warming and lift people out of poverty.

Learn more at WRI WRI’s Climate Watch tracks Parties' long-term strategies

Land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF)

A reporting category of the UNFCCC describing human activities that lead to terrestrial sinks.

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See Displacement/leakage.

Low-emission development (LED)

A development-first approach that integrates climate change objectives in development planning and proposes technical or policy options that have lower emission trajectories. By integrating climate change with development objectives, it is more aligned with the goals of developing countries.

Closely related to low-emission development strategies, which are forward-looking national economic development plans that support low-emission and climate-resilient economic growth.

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Manure management

The way animal waste is used and stored, including feces and urine. Manure management can reduce emissions, for example applying manure to crops can offset the need for commercial fertilizers, storage and application methods can reduce nutrient runoff, and methane digesters can use manure to create biogas fuel while reducing methane emissions.

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Methane (CH4)

A major GHG produced when organic materials decompose in oxygen-deprived conditions. In agriculture, major sources of CH4 are the digestion process of livestock (especially enteric fermentation from ruminants), stored manure (see manure management), and rice grown under continuously flooded conditions (see flooded rice). Learn more


Limiting or preventing GHG emissions and enhancing activities that remove GHGs from the atmosphere, relative to the past or a future business-as-usual trajectory. Also called a reduction or abatement of GHG emissions.

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Mitigation co-benefit

Positive side effect of climate change mitigation. An example of the mitigation co-benefits of agroforestry, which sequesters carbon, is the buffering of extreme temperatures, improved soil organic matter and increased economic benefits.

Co-benefit can also be used to mean impacts of an action with a non-mitigation purpose on climate change mitigation, such as water-saving in paddy rice reducing methane emissions. Co-benefits are not always well quantified and can be missed in measurement, verification, and reporting (MRV).

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Mitigation potential

Quantification of mitigation possible, described as the technical, economic, or market mitigation potential. The technical potential is the maximum mitigation possible ignoring all barriers to adoption. The economic potential indicates what can be achieved for a given carbon price, such as USD 20, 50 or 100. The market potential reflects the mitigation measures farmers will adopt, given the existing incentives and constraints they face.

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MRV (Measurement, reporting and verification)

Stands for measurement, reporting, and verification. The framework for communicating emissions by source and removals by sinks of GHGs.

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National communication (NC)

A report that each Party (i.e., country) to the UNFCCC (“Convention”) prepares periodically in accordance with the guidelines developed and adopted by the Conference of the Parties (COP). Specifically, it is a commitment of each Party to provide (i) a national inventory of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all GHGs, and (ii) a general description of steps taken or envisaged by the Party to implement the Convention.

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National greenhouse gas inventory (NGHGI)

Inventories of a country's anthropogenic emissions and removals of GHGs containing transparent documentation and data. The UNFCCC requires all Annex I Parties to submit annual inventories and the IPCC publishes guidelines that provide methodologies for estimating national inventories.

Learn more  Annex 1 national inventory submissions

National inventory reports (NIRs)

An element of the annual GHG inventory required to be submitted to the UNFCCC by Annex I Parties (i.e., high-income countries) to the Convention each year. The other elements of this submission include the reporting of GHG emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the common reporting format (CRF) tables and any other additional information in support of this submission.

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Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Option (NAMA)

Any national governmental initiative that reduces emissions in developing countries. NAMAs are supported and enabled by technology, financing, and capacity-building.

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Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)

The plans and goals established by each country in the Paris Agreement for actions to reduce their national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. INDCs are a Parties first submission and the NDCs are submitted every 5 years.

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Net GHG emissions

The sum of GHG emissions less the amount of carbon sequestration usually expressed in tons of CO2 equivalents (tCO2e). Reducing net emissions is a strategy for achieving net-zero emissions.

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Nitrous oxide (N2O)

A GHG produced by the microbial transformation of nitrogen in soils, especially when nitrogen exceeds plant requirements. In agriculture, N2O is emitted when people add synthetic fertilizer to soils (soil management) and through the breakdown of livestock manure and urine (manure management).

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Non-permanence / reversibility

The release of previously sequestered carbon, which negates some or all of the benefits from sequestration that has occurred in previous years. This issue is sometimes referred to as non-permanence. Various types of carbon sinks (e.g., afforestation/reforestation, agricultural soil carbon) have an inherent risk of future reversals.

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Chemistry shorthand notation for oxides of nitrogen (N), such as NO and NO2. Nitrogen oxides are a primary component of air pollution. NOx emissions come from fossil fuel combustion as well as soil, especially in areas with heavy nitrogen fertilizer applications.

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Nutrient management

Using fertilizer and other soil amendments effectively to minimize negative environmental effects such as GHG emissions and enhance benefits, for example to soil health.

Learn more  The shifting view on plant nutrition

Nutrient-use efficiency (NUE)

How well plants recover applied nutrients and effectiveness of nutrients in the soil to produce biomass. NUE also indicates the potential for nutrient losses to the environment. Some nutrient management options can increase NUE and reduce the need for fertilizer, thereby reducing emissions.

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Open burning

Open burning in agriculture is the process of using fire to burn materials, such as crop residues, resulting in smoke that is released directly into the atmosphere without going through a stack or chimney.

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Paris Agreement

An agreement under the UNFCCC, ratified by 189 parties, to make the changes necessary to keep global temperature rise by 2100 below 2 ˚Celsius above the pre-industrial average, with the additional goal of limiting warming to 1.5 ˚Celsius if possible. It requires all parties to put forward an NDC (see NDCs) with the goal of reducing emissions and strengthening the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

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Post-Harvest Loss (PHL)

The loss of food along the supply chain after it is harvested and before consumption. PHL is the inadvertent loss of food caused by infrastructure and management limitations in the supply chain. (See also Food Loss and Waste, FLW).

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Radiative Forcing

The change in net (down minus up) irradiance in watts per square meter of the earth’s atmosphere due to greenhouse gas emissions. Radiative forcing describes the significance of GHG emissions’ impacts for warming of the climate but does not describe actual warming impacts due to other feedback mechanisms (general circulation models of the climate are more appropriate for understanding warming impacts). Learn more

Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs)

Scenarios of radiative forcing on the climate, typically extending up to 2100, generated using Integrated Assessment Models (See IAMs). They include the time series of the emissions and concentrations of GHGs, aerosols and chemically active gasses, as well as land use and cover. RCPs are used to create scenarios representing, for example, a 2˚ Celsius world or 1.5˚ Celsius world.

IPCC Definition


See impermanence/reversibility.


Part of the gastrointestinal tract of ruminant animals where microorganisms break down food and produce methane as a by-product (see enteric fermentation). Ruminant livestock contribute the majority of agricultural GHGs.

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Shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs)

Projected scenarios of plausible global development, including sustainable development, regional rivalry, inequality, fossil-fueled development, and middle-of-the-road development.

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The practice of integrating trees, livestock, and forage, which diversifies income sources and can provide environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, increased biodiversity, protecting soil from erosion, and protecting water quality.

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Any process, activity or mechanism that removes a GHG, an aerosol or a precursor of a GHG or aerosol from the atmosphere.

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Smallholder farm

Farms that rely mainly on family labor, derive most of their income from their farm or have relatively small landholdings. Smallholder farmers produce four-fifths of low- and middle-income countries’ food. Definitions vary by country.

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Social justice

The concept of fair treatment of all people in a society that protects the most disadvantaged and supports the fair distribution of wealth, resources, and opportunities. Equity is a key element of social justice.

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Soil organic carbon (SOC)

The carbon component of organic matter in the soil. The process of converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into soil organic carbon is a carbon sink.

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Soil respiration

A measure of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released from soil because of decomposition of soil organic matter (SOM) and plant litter by soil microbes and through plant roots and soil fauna.

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Supply chain

The system through which food is produced, processed and transported to supply a product to a consumer. Can also include the consumption and disposal stages. Also called the agri-food chain.

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Exchanging one outcome for another or balancing conflicting outcomes. In agriculture, a common trade-off is the use of nitrogen fertilizer to increase productivity, at the cost of increased nitrous oxide emissions.


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

A global agreement and the parent treaty of the 2015 Paris Agreement and 1997 Kyoto Protocol. UNFCCC’s purpose is to stabilize GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame that allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development. Entered into force in 1994.

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