Demonstrating GWP*: a means of reporting warming-equivalent emissions that captures the contrasting impacts of short- and long-lived climate pollutants

02 April 2020

Environmental Research Letters

John Lynch, Michelle Cain, Raymond Pierrehumbert and Myles Allen Published 2 April 2020,

View Journal Article / Working Paper

The atmospheric lifetime and radiative impacts of different climate pollutants can both differ markedly, so metrics that equate emissions using a single scaling factor, such as the 100-year Global Warming Potential (GWP100), can be misleading. An alternative approach is to report emissions as 'warming-equivalents' that result in similar warming impacts without requiring a like-for-like weighting per emission. GWP*, an alternative application of GWPs where the CO2-equivalence of short-lived climate pollutant emissions is predominantly determined by changes in their emission rate, provides a straightforward means of generating warming-equivalent emissions. In this letter the authors illustrate the contrasting climate impacts resulting from emissions of methane, a short-lived greenhouse gas, and CO2, and compare GWP100 and GWP* CO2-equivalents for a number of simple emissions scenarios. They demonstrate that GWP* provides a useful indication of warming, while conventional application of GWP100 falls short in many scenarios and particularly when methane emissions are stable or declining, with important implications for how we consider 'zero emission' or 'climate neutral' targets for sectors emitting different compositions of gases.