What is meant by global warming potential (GWP) has been the subject of much debate amongst leading scientists and world governments, with a great deal of disagreement as to what this term might encompass. Global warming potential is generally defined as the amount of energy or heat trapped by a given greenhouse gas or chemicals within the atmosphere, typically measured over a specific period of time, normally one hundred years. It is a scientific tool which is used to compare and contrast different gasses and assess their environmental impact.
The Global Warming Potential of individual substances is calculated and assigned a value or score which helps to quantify the potential for global heating that these substances can cause. This is determined by taking into account the respective atmospheric involvement time and yields of a given gas, when compared to that of carbon dioxide. When measured as a metric ton of carbon dioxide, the higher the GWP score, the more energy or heat will be trapped by a certain gas.
Some gasses and chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide and methane have GWP scores that are over twenty times higher than carbon dioxide and therefore are far more capable of trapping heat. Alternatively, substances like fluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons have GWP scores greater than 10,000, greatly elevating their potential to contribute to global heating in comparison to carbon dioxide. In short, the GWP of a certain gas or chemical is relative to the amount of energy it is capable of trapping in a certain amount of time, when compared to carbon dioxide.
Understanding the Global Warming Potential of different gasses and chemicals can help us to make better educated decisions regarding the environment and climate change, allowing us to adjust our actions accordingly and make necessary changes to mitigate the effects of these gases. This is an essential fact to consider in the effort to reduce, if not inevitably reversal the damage done to the environment by human activities. This task is made even more arduous when one considers that the most common substances with the highest GWP scores are also the most widely used, meaning that their occurrence and prevalence in many parts of the world are necessarily high.
The GWP system is a multi-layered and complex concept, far from being easily understood or implemented. It is an ever-evolving metric and so it holds no universal definition, given that the scores attributed to certain gases are regularly revised and updated. The same gas will often have different GWP scores attributed to it by different climate and environment bodies. Nevertheless, GWP scores are a critically important and invaluable means of monitoring and assessing the potential impact of a certain gas on the environment as well as offering a benchmark to help us to measure the success and efficacy of subsequent climate laws and regulations imposed by governments around the world.
Given the urgent need to adjust our day-to-day habits and lifestyle in order to mitigate the effects of climate change, understanding the meanings and implications of global warming potential is essential. Public and private stakeholders alike, need to embrace the principles of environmental evaluation, using the tools available to them, to achieve long-term sustainability and shape a healthier future for the planet.