This website is no longer being updated. Please go to GOV.SCOT


This site is no longer being updated. You can now find the latest research on

Glossary of Terms

« Previous | Contents | Next »

Glossary of Terms


Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities (IPCC 2007)


A standard, or point of reference, against which things can be compared, assessed, measured or judged.


Benchmarking refers to the case where there are two sources of data for the same target variable, with different frequencies, and is concerned with correcting inconsistencies between the different estimates. (OECD)


The quantity and variability among living organisms within species (genetic diversity), between species and between ecosystems. Biodiversity is not itself an ecosystem service but underpins the supply of services. (TEEB)


The management of human use of organisms or ecosystems to ensure that such use is sustainable.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

Monetary measurement of all negative and positive impacts associated with a given action. Costs and benefits are compared in terms of their difference and/or ratio as an indicator of how a given investment or other policy effort pays off seen from the society's point of view. (IPCC)

Cradle to cradle

Cradle-to-cradle is a specific kind of full Life Cycle Assessment, where the end-of-life disposal step for the product is a recycling process. From the recycling process originate new, identical products or different products. (Wikipedia)


The way government is understood has changed in response to social, economic and technological changes over recent decades. There is a corresponding shift from govern ment defined strictly by the nation-state to a more inclusive concept of govern ance, recognizing the contributions of various levels of government (global, international, regional, local) and the roles of the private sector, of non-governmental actors and of civil society. (IPCC)


An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit. (TEEB) The boundaries of what could be called an ecosystem are somewhat arbitrary, depending on the focus of interest or study. Thus, the extent of an ecosystem may range from very small spatial scales to the entire planet Earth ultimately. (IPCC)

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems. Examples include food, freshwater, timber, climate regulation, protection from natural hazards, erosion control, pharmaceutical ingredients and recreation. (TEEB)

Environmental accounting

Refers to:
- national accounting: physical and monetary accounts of environmental assets and the costs of their depletion and degradation;

- corporate accounting: the term usually refers to environmental auditing, but may also include the costing of environmental impacts caused by the corporation. (OECD)

Environmental assets

Naturally occurring entities (including biological assets, land and water areas with their ecosystems, subsoil assets and air) that provide environmental services. They may have economic value but also include indirect benefits and those that cannot translate into monetary value (OECD)

Environmental change

Refers to climate change AND other environmental changes (i.e. atmospheric, terrestrial, freshwater, marine).

Greenhouse gas (GHG)

Gases, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of infrared radiation emitted by the Earth's surface, the atmosphere, and clouds. This property causes the greenhouse effect. Water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and ozone are the primary GHGs in the Earth's atmosphere. (IPCC)

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

A technique that allows the comparison of the environmental impacts of products or services across their entire life cycle. LCA looks at the movement of materials and energy through the system, from the time you extract the raw materials from the environment, through the manufacture, use, and final disposal. This provides quantitative data to identify the potential environmental impacts of the product or service on the environment. (SEPA)


An anthropogenic intervention to reduce the anthropogenic forcing of the climate system; it includes strategies to reduce greenhouse gas sources and emissions and enhancing greenhouse gas sinks. (IPCC)

Natural capital

Natural assets in their role of providing natural resource inputs and environmental services for economic production, comprising three principal categories: natural resource stocks, land and ecosystems. All are considered essential to the long-term sustainability of development for their provision of "functions" to the economy, as well as to mankind outside the economy and other living beings. (OECD)


A chance for advancement, progress or profit.


The ability of a social (or ecological) system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of function, the capacity for self-organisation, and the capacity to adapt to stress or change


The possibility, danger, chance or probability of suffering harm, damage or loss.


Any process, activity, or mechanism that removes a greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. (IPCC)

Social capital

Social capital is defined as the norms and social relations embedded in the social structures of societies that enable people to co-ordinate action to achieve desired goals. (OECD)

Sustainable development/sustainability

Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (Brundtland Report)

Sustainable economic growth

Building a dynamic and growing economy that will provide prosperity and opportunities for all, while ensuring that future generations can enjoy a better quality of life too. (Scottish Government Economic Strategy)

Transformational change

Uptake of technologies or investments in new technologies that lead to organisational change in businesses.


An expression of the degree to which a value is unknown. This can result from lack of information or from disagreement about what is known or even knowable. It may have many types of sources, from quantifiable errors in the data to ambiguously defined concepts or terminology, or uncertain projections of human behaviour.


Value at the level of a single, homogeneous good or service is equal to the price per unit of quantity multiplied by the number of quantity units of that good or service; in contrast to price, value is independent of the choice of quantity unit.

Valuation of natural assets

Valuation of natural assets are methods of applying a monetary value to natural assets in environmental accounting that include:
(a) market valuation,
(b) direct non-market valuation such as the assessment of the willingness to pay for environmental services (contingent valuation), and
(c) indirect non-market valuation, for example, costing of environmental damage or of compliance with environmental standards.

Vibrant rural communities

Socially and economically inclusive rural communities (including those in coastal areas of rural Scotland), providing opportunities for everyone to contribute to the future development of their area. Those communities living and working in Scotland's rural areas.


OECD - Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Glossary of Statistical Terms

TEEB - The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - interim report

IPCC - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007 Assessment Reports)

Scottish Government Economic Strategy

SEPA - Scottish Environment Protection Agency

« Previous | Contents | Next »