Understanding sustainability

Jordan Abrahams
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Jordan Abrahams

Understanding sustainability

The world of sustainability is growing, while the pressure from climate change is increasing. New terms like climate action, blue economy, green economy and many others are popping up in conversations every day. This can be quite confusing and intimidating, especially if you are just starting to familiarize yourself with the complexities of sustainability.

Fortunately, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has created a climate dictionary to facilitate discourse on sustainability without anyone feeling left out. Unfortunately, just like sustainability itself, the dictionary is an ongoing project and does not include all the terms around the topic. For example, there is a definition for the blue economy, but none for the green economy.

In this blog, we try to simplify the terms described in the dictionary even further and add to your vocabulary by introducing you to some common terms that you will encounter on your sustainability journey.

Climate adaptation

The dictionary defines climate adaptation as "measures that help to reduce vulnerability to current or expected impacts of climate change". There are also some examples of climate adaptation, such as planting drought-resistant crops and improving water storage and use. Additionally, the role of communities at every level (local, national and international) is emphasized to take these measures in order to have a better chance of surviving climate change.

In other words, climate adaptation is simply a set of decisions and actions that best and most effectively help to survive extreme weather conditions. The reason why all levels of government - local, national and international - are needed for the success of the project is because there is no universal solution to climate adaptation measures. Each community has its own needs, depending on the region, community and other influences. No one knows the needs of a community better than the community itself, and projects need local involvement for regular maintenance and upkeep.

It is also worth noting that the terms climate adaptation and climate resilience are related, but not interchangeable. Climate resilience simply means the ability to successfully withstand climate change through various means and measures. Thus, climate adaptation measures increase climate resilience, but climate adaptation is not the only way to achieve this.

Climate protection

In the UNDP dictionary, climate protection includes measures to reduce or prevent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or to improve carbon sinks that help to absorb gases from the atmosphere.

Climate protection is necessary because the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases global temperatures. The more gases there are in the atmosphere, the hotter it gets. By trapping or preventing the release of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we prevent temperatures from rising further, which helps to achieve the goal set out in the Paris Agreement . There are various ways to contribute to climate protection, but the most common are switching to renewable energy sources and changing production and consumption models.

Blue economy

If the color blue makes you think of the ocean, you're right. The climate dictionary defines blue economy as a type of economy that "ensures economic development, social inclusion and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods, while ensuring the environmental sustainability of oceans and coastal areas".

The definition includes various economic activities related to aquatic environments - such as fishing, marine transportation as well as newer activities such as renewable energy and marine biotechnology.

Simply put, the blue economy is an economy that uses the ocean's resources in a non-destructive way to promote the economic and social development of our societies. There are many links between the oceans and climate change. For example, communities near the coast and on small islands are more at risk of flooding from sea level rise, while landlocked countries are also affected by extreme weather events caused by changes in the oceans. The ocean is also a great tool for regulating heat and redistributing CO2 emissions.

Green economy

In general, the green economy is a concept that focuses on an economy that has little to no negative environmental impact while improving the social and economic spheres. A green economy is characterized by being "efficient, clean, circular, collaborative and low-carbon" (terms that we will explain in more detail in a future article). A good example of a green economy activity is green infrastructure (which we will also cover in more detail later), which uses natural components such as trees to provide certain services, for example temperature regulation in cities.

However, the green economy should not be confused with the inclusive green economy (IGE), which combines all the good aspects of the green economy with the added benefit of sharing the benefits equitably so that no one is left behind. IGE recognizes that there is no single pathway to achieving sustainability and promotes nuanced, inclusive and coherent policies, regulations and measures. In essence, a green economy with a stronger focus on diversity. A good example of IGE is the creation of green jobs that are more accessible to people from lower income backgrounds.


This concludes our blog "Understanding Sustainability", where we want to help you understand common sustainability terms to make your life (and your investments) easier. Check out our other articles where we talk about greenwashing, sustainable investments and their contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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