What is a global warming potential?

global warming potential

The impact of carbon dioxide on the Earth’s temperature is well-known, and understanding the effects of other greenhouse gases is crucial for environmental sustainability. Similarly, it is essential to know how other greenhouse gases affect the planet. This is why tools like the Global Warming Potential (GWP) are so important. 

Using this measurement to determine the impact of different gases, policymakers can make recommendations and seek opportunities on how to reduce emissions. Continue reading to learn more about the Global Warming Potential. 

About Global Warming Potential

In order to gain a good understanding of the Global Warming Potential, you need to comprehend the greenhouse effect. The Earth is continuously emitting heat, and some of this is absorbed by greenhouse gases. 

This then re-distributes the heat in all directions, which increases the temperature on the Earth. GWP refers to a measurement of how much heat is trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over a specific time period. 

This measurement is used by governments to calculate the impact of emissions of various gases and how they contribute to the warming climate. Global Warming Potential is always expressed as a comparison to carbon dioxide. CO2 is the baseline, and because of this, its GWP will always be 1. 

The GWP was created so that comparisons of how different gases impact the Earth could be made. According to the standard data, methane scores 25. This means methane will cause the same degree of warming as 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

For nitrous oxide, it is 198, and some of the much more potent F-gases score higher than 10,000. The bigger the GWP, the more a gas warms the Earth compared to carbon dioxide over a period of time. 

This period is generally 100 years. It is also important to note in this that a tonne of carbon dioxide could warm the planet at a much more gentle rate over many centuries. By contrast, methane could create a stronger burst of warming over a much shorter period. 

How is Global Warming Potential Calculated?

The Global Warming Potential offers a common measurement unit that enables analysts to calculate emissions estimates of various gases so policymakers can compare emissions and make reductions across gases and sectors.

Some laboratory testing is required to calculate Global Warming Potential. The main trusted statistics of Global Warming Potential come from the IPCC and are published in its annual reports. 

Are There Alternatives to Global Warming Potential?

Most countries tend to use the GWP to measure the impact of the different greenhouse gases. However, the scientific community is also developing other metrics that can be useful. Additionally, these metrics may be based on different timeframes. 

Sometimes a 20-year GWP is used rather than a 100-year GWP currently. Another metric available is the Global Temperature Potential which measures the heat absorbed over a period due to emissions of a gas. It essentially measures the temperature change. However, calculating this can be more difficult than calculating Global Warming Potential. 


The Global Warming Potential is essentially a measurement of the total warming impact of various greenhouse gases when compared to carbon dioxide over a set period. This set period is generally a hundred years. Using this methodology, policymakers can take action and make recommendations on how to reduce emissions. 

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