Global warming potential

Global warming potential is a measurement, based around CO2, of how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere. It is often abbreviated GWP. Because the scale is based around carbon dioxide, CO2 has a value of 1. The higher the GWP, the more heat a gas traps, so the higher the GWP the more harm it has on the climate.

The chart below does not take into account the complicated factors involved on how long a gas stays in the atmosphere. This is a significant effect, for example CO2 has a much longer residence time than methane, decreasing the gap between them of how much heat they will trap in their respective lifetimes.

Common GWP values[1][2]

Gas Chemical formula Atmospheric lifetime (years) GWP value
Carbon dioxide CO2 -* 1
Methane CH4 12 21
Nitrous oxide N2O 114 310
Ammonia[3] NH3 <2 hours 0
Nitrogen trifluoride NF3 740 10,970

*Calculating the atmospheric lifetime of CO2 is extremely complex. If you'd like to learn about it, click here.


Authors and Editors

James Jenden, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: August 26, 2015
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