Global warming potential
Global warming potential (GWP) is the heat absorbed by any greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, as a multiple of the heat that would be absorbed by the same mass of carbon dioxide (CO
2). GWP is 1 for CO
2. For other gases it depends on the gas and the time frame.
Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO
2e or CO
2eq or CO
2-e) is calculated from GWP. It can be measured in weight or concentration. For any amount of any gas, it is the amount of CO
2 which would warm the earth as much as that amount of that gas. Thus it provides a common scale for measuring the climate effects of different gases. It is calculated as GWP times amount of the other gas. For example if a gas has GWP of 100, two tons of the gas have CO
2e of 200 tons, and 1 part per million of the gas in the atmosphere has CO
2e of 100 parts per million.
Carbon dioxide is the reference. It has a GWP of 1 regardless of the time period used. CO
2 emissions cause increases in atmospheric concentrations of CO
2 that will last thousands of years. Estimates of GWP values over 20, 100 and 500 years are periodically compiled and revised in reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
Though recent reports reflect more scientific accuracy, countries and companies continue to use SAR and AR4 values for reasons of comparison in their emission reports. AR5 has skipped 500 year values but introduced GWP estimations including the climate-carbon feedback (f) with a large amount of uncertainty.
|GWP values and lifetimes||Lifetime
|Global warming potential, GWP|
|20 years||100 years||500 years|
84 / 86f
28 / 34f
40f (fossil) 
|Nitrous oxide (N
264 / 268f
265 / 298f
|HFC-134a (hydrofluorocarbon)||13.4||3710 / 3790f||1300 / 1550f||435|
|CFC-11 (chlorofluorocarbon)||45.0||6900 / 7020f||4660 / 5350f||1620|
|Carbon tetrafluoride (CF4 / PFC-14)||50,000||4880 / 4950f||6630 / 7350f||11,200|
|Sulfur hexafluoride SF
The IPCC lists many other substances not shown here. Some have high GWP but only a low concentration in the atmosphere. The total impact of all fluorinated gases is estimated at 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
The values given in the table assume the same mass of compound is analyzed; different ratios will result from the conversion of one substance to another. For instance, burning methane to carbon dioxide would reduce the global warming impact, but by a smaller factor than 25:1 because the mass of methane burned is less than the mass of carbon dioxide released (ratio 1:2.74). If you started with 1 tonne of methane which has a GWP of 25, after combustion you would have 2.74 tonnes of CO
2, each tonne of which has a GWP of 1. This is a net reduction of 22.26 tonnes of GWP, reducing the global warming effect by a ratio of 25:2.74 (approximately 9 times).
Use in Kyoto Protocol and UNFCCCEdit
Under the Kyoto Protocol, in 1997 the Conference of the Parties standardized international reporting, by deciding (decision 2/CP.3) that the values of GWP calculated for the IPCC Second Assessment Report were to be used for converting the various greenhouse gas emissions into comparable CO
After some intermediate updates, in 2013 this standard was updated by the Warsaw meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, decision 24/CP.19) to require using a new set of 100-year GWP values. They published these values in Annex III, and they took them from the 4th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which had been published in 2007.
Those 2007 estimates are still used for international comparisons through 2020, although the latest research on warming effects has found other values, as shown in the table above.
|Greenhouse gas||Chemical formula||100-year Global warming potentials|
(2007 estimates, for 2013-2020 comparisons)
|1,1,1,2-Tetrafluoroethane (HFC-134a)||C2H2F4 (CH2FCF3)||1430|
|1,1,1-Trifluoroethane (HFC-143a)||C2H3F3 (CF3CH3)||4470|
|Carbon tetrafluoride – PFC-14||CF4||7390|
|Hexafluoroethane – PFC-116||C2F6||12200|
|Octafluoropropane – PFC-218||C3F8||8830|
|Perfluorobutane – PFC-3-1-10||C4F10||8860|
|Octafluorocyclobutane – PFC-318||c-C4F8||10300|
|Perfluouropentane – PFC-4-1-12||C5F12||9160|
|Perfluorohexane – PFC-5-1-14||C6F14||9300|
|Perfluorodecalin – PFC-9-1-18b||C10F18||7500|
|Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)|
|Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)|
|Bis(difluoromethyl) ether (HFE-134)||CHF2OCHF2||6320|
|HFE-43-10pccc124 (H-Galden 1040x)||CHF2OCF2OC2F4OCHF2||1870|
|– (CF2)4CH (OH) –||73|
|Trifluoromethyl sulphur pentafluoride (SF5CF3)|
|Trifluoromethyl sulphur pentafluoride||SF5CF3||17|
Importance of time horizonEdit
A substance's GWP depends on the number of years (denoted by a subscript) over which the potential is calculated. A gas which is quickly removed from the atmosphere may initially have a large effect, but for longer time periods, as it has been removed, it becomes less important. Thus methane has a potential of 34 over 100 years (GWP100 = 34) but 86 over 20 years (GWP20 = 86); conversely sulfur hexafluoride has a GWP of 22,800 over 100 years but 16,300 over 20 years (IPCC Third Assessment Report). The GWP value depends on how the gas concentration decays over time in the atmosphere. This is often not precisely known and hence the values should not be considered exact. For this reason when quoting a GWP it is important to give a reference to the calculation.
The GWP for a mixture of gases can be obtained from the mass-fraction-weighted average of the GWPs of the individual gases.
Commonly, a time horizon of 100 years is used by regulators.
Water vapour is one of the primary greenhouse gases, but some issues prevent its GWP to be calculated directly. It has a profound infrared absorption spectrum with more and broader absorption bands than CO
2, and also absorbs non-zero amounts of radiation in its low absorbing spectral regions. Next, its concentration in the atmosphere depends on air temperature and water availability; using a global average temperature of ~16 °C, for example, creates an average humidity of ~18,000ppm at sea level (CO
2 is ~400ppm and so concentrations of [H2O]/[CO
2] ~ 45x). Unlike other GHG, water vapor does not decay in the environment, so an average over some time horizon or some other measure consistent with "time dependent decay," q.v., above, must be used in lieu of the time dependent decay of artificial or excess CO
2 molecules. Other issues complicating its calculation are the Earth's temperature distribution, and the differing land masses in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Criticism and other metricsEdit
The Global Temperature change Potential (GTP) is another way to compare gases. While GWP estimates heat absorbed, GTP estimates the resulting rise in average surface temperature of the world, over the next 20, 50 or 100 years, caused by a greenhouse gas, relative to the temperature rise which the same mass of CO
2 would cause. Calculation of GTP requires modeling how the world, especially the oceans, will absorb heat. GTP is published in the same IPCC tables with GWP.
GWP* has been proposed to take better account of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) such as methane, relating a change in the rate of emissions of SLCPs to a fixed quantity of CO
Calculating the global warming potentialEdit
The GWP depends on the following factors:
- the absorption of infrared radiation by a given gas
- the spectral location of its absorbing wavelengths
- the atmospheric lifetime of the gas
A high GWP correlates with a large infrared absorption and a long atmospheric lifetime. The dependence of GWP on the wavelength of absorption is more complicated. Even if a gas absorbs radiation efficiently at a certain wavelength, this may not affect its GWP much if the atmosphere already absorbs most radiation at that wavelength. A gas has the most effect if it absorbs in a "window" of wavelengths where the atmosphere is fairly transparent. The dependence of GWP as a function of wavelength has been found empirically and published as a graph.
Because the GWP of a greenhouse gas depends directly on its infrared spectrum, the use of infrared spectroscopy to study greenhouse gases is centrally important in the effort to understand the impact of human activities on global climate change.
Just as radiative forcing provides a simplified means of comparing the various factors that are believed to influence the climate system to one another, global warming potentials (GWPs) are one type of simplified index based upon radiative properties that can be used to estimate the potential future impacts of emissions of different gases upon the climate system in a relative sense. GWP is based on a number of factors, including the radiative efficiency (infrared-absorbing ability) of each gas relative to that of carbon dioxide, as well as the decay rate of each gas (the amount removed from the atmosphere over a given number of years) relative to that of carbon dioxide.
The radiative forcing capacity (RF) is the amount of energy per unit area, per unit time, absorbed by the greenhouse gas, that would otherwise be lost to space. It can be expressed by the formula:
where the subscript i represents an interval of 10 inverse centimeters. Absi represents the integrated infrared absorbance of the sample in that interval, and Fi represents the RF for that interval.[verification needed]
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides the generally accepted values for GWP, which changed slightly between 1996 and 2001. An exact definition of how GWP is calculated is to be found in the IPCC's 2001 Third Assessment Report. The GWP is defined as the ratio of the time-integrated radiative forcing from the instantaneous release of 1 kg of a trace substance relative to that of 1 kg of a reference gas:
where TH is the time horizon over which the calculation is considered; ax is the radiative efficiency due to a unit increase in atmospheric abundance of the substance (i.e., Wm−2 kg−1) and [x(t)] is the time-dependent decay in abundance of the substance following an instantaneous release of it at time t=0. The denominator contains the corresponding quantities for the reference gas (i.e. CO
2). The radiative efficiencies ax and ar are not necessarily constant over time. While the absorption of infrared radiation by many greenhouse gases varies linearly with their abundance, a few important ones display non-linear behaviour for current and likely future abundances (e.g., CO
2, CH4, and N2O). For those gases, the relative radiative forcing will depend upon abundance and hence upon the future scenario adopted.
Since all GWP calculations are a comparison to CO
2 which is non-linear, all GWP values are affected. Assuming otherwise as is done above will lead to lower GWPs for other gases than a more detailed approach would. Clarifying this, while increasing CO
2 has less and less effect on radiative absorption as ppm concentrations rise, more powerful greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide have different thermal absorption frequencies to CO
2 that are not filled up (saturated) as much as CO
2, so rising ppms of these gases are far more significant.
Carbon dioxide equivalentEdit
Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO
2e or CO
2eq or CO
2-e) is calculated from GWP. It can be measured in weight or concentration. For any amount of any gas, it is the amount of CO
2 which would warm the earth as much as that amount of that gas. Thus it provides a common scale for measuring the climate effects of different gases. It is calculated as GWP times amount of the other gas.
As weight, CO
2e is the weight of CO
2 which would warm the earth as much as a particular weight of some other gas; it is calculated as GWP times weight of the other gas. For example if a gas has GWP of 100, two tons of the gas have CO
2e of 200 tons, and 9 tons of the gas has CO
2e of 900 tons.
As concentration, CO
2e is the concentration of CO
2 which would warm the earth as much as a particular concentration of some other gas or of all gases and aerosols in the atmosphere; it is calculated as GWP times concentration of the other gas(es). For example CO
2e of 500 parts per million would reflect a mix of atmospheric gases which warm the earth as much as 500 parts per million of CO
2 would warm it.
The following units are commonly used:
- By the UN climate change panel (IPCC): billion metric tonnes = n×109 tonnes of CO
2 equivalent (GtCO
- In industry: million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (MMTCDE) and MMT CO
- For vehicles: grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per mile (gCO
2e/mile) or per kilometer (gCO
For example, the table above shows GWP for methane over 20 years at 86 and nitrous oxide at 289, so emissions of 1 million tonnes of methane or nitrous oxide are equivalent to emissions of 86 or 289 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, respectively.
- "Understanding Global Warming Potentials". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2021-03-02.
- IPCC SAR WG1 Ch2 1995, p. 121
- IPCC TAR WG1 Ch6 2001, p. 388
- IPCC AR4 WG1 Ch2 2007, p. 212
- IPCC AR5 WG1 Ch8 2013, p. 714;731
- Alvarez 2018
- Etminan et al. 2016
- Morton 2020
- Derwent 2018
- Olivier & Peters 2020, p. 12
- This is so, because of the reaction formula: CH4 + 2O2 → CO
2 + 2 H2O. As mentioned in the article, the oxygen and water is not considered for GWP purposes, and one molecule of methane (molar mass = 16.04 g mol−1) will yield one molecule of carbon dioxide (molar mass = 44.01 g mol−1). This gives a mass ratio of 2.74. (44.01/16.04 ≈ 2.74).
- Conference of the Parties (25 March 1998). "Methodological issues related to the Kyoto Protocol". Report of the Conference of the Parties on its third session, held at Kyoto from 1 to 11 December 1997 Addendum Part Two: Action taken by the Conference of the Parties at its third session (PDF). UNFCCC. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
- "Testing 100-year global warming potentials: Impacts on compliance costs and abatement profile", "Climatic Change" Retrieved March 16, 2018
- "Report of the Conference of the Parties on its 19th Session" (PDF). UNFCCC. 2014-01-31. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
- "Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2018, page ES-3" (PDF). US Environmental Protection Agency. 2020-04-13. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
- Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 on fluorinated greenhouse gases Annex IV.
- These are normalized absorbance spectrum; these must be compensated for using the Beer–Lambert law for atmospheric concentrations, http://www.chem.arizona.edu/chemt/C21/sim/gh/ this plot provides a resultant application: Sunlight#Composition and power
- Carbon dioxide#In Earth's atmosphere
- "Understanding Global Warming Potentials". US EPA. 2016-01-12. Retrieved 2020-07-04.
- Lynch, John; Cain, Michelle; Pierrehumbert, Raymond; Allen, Myles (2020-04-01). "Demonstrating GWP*: a means of reporting warming-equivalent emissions that captures the contrasting impacts of short- and long-lived climate pollutants". Environmental Research Letters. 15 (4): 044023. Bibcode:2020ERL....15d4023L. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/ab6d7e. ISSN 1748-9326. PMC 7212016. PMID 32395177.
- Matthew Elrod, "Greenhouse Warming Potential Model." Based on Elrod, M. J. (1999). "Greenhouse Warming Potentials from the Infrared Spectroscopy of Atmospheric Gases". Journal of Chemical Education. 76 (12): 1702. Bibcode:1999JChEd..76.1702E. doi:10.1021/ed076p1702.
"Glossary: Global warming potential (GWP)". U.S. Energy Information Administration. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
An index used to compare the relative radiative forcing of different gases without directly calculating the changes in atmospheric concentrations. GWPs are calculated as the ratio of the radiative forcing that would result from the emission of one kilogram of a greenhouse gas to that from the emission of one kilogram of carbon dioxide over a fixed period of time, such as 100 years.
- "CO2e". www3.epa.gov. Retrieved 2020-06-27.
- "Atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations - Rationale". European Environment Agency. 2020-02-25. Retrieved 2020-06-28.
- Gohar, L. K.; Shine, K. P. (2007). "Equivalent CO2 and its use in understanding the climate effects of increased greenhouse gas concentrations". Weather. 62 (11): 307–311. Bibcode:2007Wthr...62..307G. doi:10.1002/wea.103.
- Wedderburn-Bisshop, Gerard et al (2015). "Neglected transformational responses: implications of excluding short lived emissions and near term projections in greenhouse gas accounting". The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses. RMIT Common Ground Publishing. Retrieved 16 August 2017.
- Ocko, Ilissa B.; Hamburg, Steven P.; Jacob, Daniel J.; Keith, David W.; Keohane, Nathaniel O.; Oppenheimer, Michael; Roy-Mayhew, Joseph D.; Schrag, Daniel P.; Pacala, Stephen W. (2017). "Unmask temporal trade-offs in climate policy debates". Science. 356 (6337): 492–493. Bibcode:2017Sci...356..492O. doi:10.1126/science.aaj2350. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 28473552. S2CID 206653952.
- Denison, Steve; Forster, Piers M; Smith, Christopher J (2019-11-18). "Guidance on emissions metrics for nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement". Environmental Research Letters. 14 (12): 124002. Bibcode:2019ERL....14l4002D. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/ab4df4. ISSN 1748-9326.
- "Glossary:Carbon dioxide equivalent - Statistics Explained". ec.europa.eu. Retrieved 2020-06-28.
- "How Clean is Your Electric Vehicle?". Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
- Whitehead, Jake (2019-09-07). "The Truth About Electric Vehicle Emissions". www.realclearscience.com. Retrieved 2020-07-02.
- Schimel, D.; Alves, D.; Enting, I.; Heimann, M.; et al. (1995). "Chapter 2: Radiative Forcing of Climate Change". Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group I to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. pp. 65–132.
- Ramaswamy, V.; Boucher, O.; Haigh, J.; Hauglustaine, D.; et al. (2001). "Chapter 6: Radiative Forcing of Climate Change". Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. pp. 349–416.
- Forster, P.; Ramaswamy, V.; Artaxo, P.; Berntsen, T.; et al. (2007). "Chapter 2: Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and Radiative Forcing" (PDF). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. pp. 129–234.
- Myhre, G.; Shindell, D.; Bréon, F.-M.; Collins, W.; et al. (2013). "Chapter 8: Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing" (PDF). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. pp. 659–740.
- Alvarez (2018). "Assessment of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas supply chain". Science. 361 (6398): 186–188. Bibcode:2018Sci...361..186A. doi:10.1126/science.aar7204. PMC 6223263. PMID 29930092.
- Etminan, M.; Myhre, G.; Highwood, E. J.; Shine, K. P. (2016-12-28). "Radiative forcing of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide: A significant revision of the methane radiative forcing: Greenhouse Gas Radiative Forcing". Geophysical Research Letters. 43 (24): 12, 614–12, 623. doi:10.1002/2016GL071930.
- Derwent, R.G. (2018-10-07). "Hydrogen for Heating: Atmospheric Impacts. A literature review" (PDF). BEIS Research Paper (2018:21).
- Morton, Adam (2020-08-26). "Methane released in gas production means Australia's emissions may be 10% higher than reported". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-08-26.
- Olivier, J.G.J.; Peters, J.A.H.W. (2020). Trends in global CO
2 and total greenhouse gas emissions (2020) (PDF) (Report). The Hague: PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.