Climatic Change

, Volume 68, Issue 3, pp 281–302 | Cite as

Alternatives to the Global Warming Potential for Comparing Climate Impacts of Emissions of Greenhouse Gases

  • Keith P. ShineEmail author
  • Jan S. Fuglestvedt
  • Kinfe Hailemariam
  • Nicola Stuber


The Global Warming Potential (GWP) is used within the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as a metric for weighting the climatic impact of emissions of different greenhouse gases. The GWP has been subjected to many criticisms because of its formulation, but nevertheless it has retained some favour because of the simplicity of its design and application, and its transparency compared to proposed alternatives. Here, two new metrics are proposed, which are based on a simple analytical climate model. The first metric is called the Global Temperature Change Potential and represents the temperature change at a given time due to a pulse emission of a gas (GTPP); the second is similar but represents the effect of a sustainedemission change (hence GTPS). Both GTPP and GTPS are presented as relative to the temperature change due to a similar emission change of a reference gas, here taken to be carbon dioxide. Both metrics are compared against an upwelling-diffusion energy balance model that resolves land and ocean and the hemispheres. The GTPP does not perform well, compared to the energy balance model, except for long-lived gases. By contrast, the GTPS is shown to perform well relative to the energy balance model, for gases with a wide variety of lifetimes. It is also shown that for time horizons in excess of about 100 years, the GTPS and GWP produce very similar results, indicating an alternative interpretation for the GWP. The GTPS retains the advantage of the GWP in terms of transparency, and the relatively small number of input parameters required for calculation. However, it has an enhanced relevance, as it is further down the cause–effect chain of the impacts of greenhouse gases emissions and has an unambiguous interpretation. It appears to be robust to key uncertainties and simplifications in its derivation and may be an attractive alternative to the GWP.


Temperature Change Global Warming Kyoto Protocol Global Warming Potential Global Temperature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Fisher, D. A., Hales, C. H., Wang, W. -C., Ko, M. K. W. and Sze, N. D.: 1990, ‘Model calculation on the relative effects of CFCs and their replacements on global warming’, Nature 344, 513–516.Google Scholar
  2. Fuglestvedt, J. S., Berntsen, T. K., Godal, O., Sausen, R., Shine, K. P. and Skodvin, T.: 2003, ‘Metrics of climate change: Assessing radiative forcing and emission indices’, Clim Change 58, 267–331.Google Scholar
  3. Fuglestvedt, J. S., Berntsen, T., Godal, O. and Skodvin, T.: 2000, ‘Climatic implications of GWP-based reductions in greenhouse gas emissions’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 27, 409–412.Google Scholar
  4. Godal, O.: 2003, ‘The IPCC’s assessment of multidisciplinary issues: The case of greenhouse gas indices’, Clim. Change 58, 243–249.Google Scholar
  5. Hammitt, J. K., Jain, A. K., Adams, J. L. and Wuebbles, D. J.: 1996, ‘A welfare-based index for assessing environmental effects of greenhouse-gas emissions’, Nature 381, 301–303.Google Scholar
  6. Hansen, J., Sato, M. and Ruedy, R.: 1997, ‘Radiative forcing and climate response’, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 102, 6831–6864.Google Scholar
  7. Hartmann, D. L.: 1996, Global Physical Climatology, Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
  8. Harvey, L. D. D. and Schneider, S. H.: 1985, ‘Transient climate response to external forcing on 100–104 year time scales, Part 2: Sensitivity experiments with a seasonal, hemispherically averaged, coupled atmospheric, land, and ocean energy balance model, J. Geophys. Res. 90, 2207–2222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hasselmann, K., Hasselmann, S., Giering, R., Ocana, V. and van Storch, H.: 1997, ‘Sensitivity study of optimal CO2 emission paths using a structural integrated assessment model (SIAM)’, Clim. Change 37 37345–386.Google Scholar
  10. Hoffert, M. I., Callegari, A. J. and Hseih, C. T.: 1980, ‘The role of the deep sea heat storage in the secular response to climate forcing’, J. Geophys. Res. 85, 6667–6679.Google Scholar
  11. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): 1990, Climate Change: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Scientific Assessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  12. IPCC: 1995, Climate Change 1994. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  13. IPCC: 1996, Climate Change 1995. The Science of Climate Change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  14. IPCC: 2001, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  15. Joos, F., Bruno, M., Fink, R., Stocker, T. F., Siegenthaler, U., Le Quéré, C. and Sarmiento, J. L.: 1996, ‘An efficient and accurate representation of complex oceanic and biospheric models of anthropogenic carbon uptake’, Tellus 48B, 397–417.Google Scholar
  16. Joshi, M. M., Shine, K. P., Ponater, M., Stuber, N., Sausen, R. and Li, L.: 2003, ‘A comparison of climate response to different radiative forcings in three general circulation models: Towards an improved metric of climate change’, Clim. Dyn. 20, 843–854.Google Scholar
  17. Kandlikar, M.: 1995, ‘The relative role of trace gas emissions in greenhouse gas abatement policies’, Energy Policy 23, 879–883.Google Scholar
  18. Manne, A. S. and Richels, R. G.: 2001, ‘An alternative approach to establishing trade-offs among greenhouse gases’, Nature 410, 675–677.Google Scholar
  19. Meira Filho, L. G. M. and Miguez, J. D. G.: 2000, ‘Note on the time-dependent relationship between emissions of greenhouse gases and climate change’, Technical Note of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Federative Republic of Brazil, Available at: ma/ingles/negoc/proposta.htm, July 2004.
  20. O’Neill, B. C.: 2000, ‘The jury is still out on global warming potentials’, Clim. Change 44, 427–443.Google Scholar
  21. O’Neill, B. C.: 2003, ‘Economics, natural science, and the costs of the global warming potential’, Clim. Change 58, 251–260.Google Scholar
  22. Raper, S. C. B., Gregory, J. M. and Osborn, T. J.: 2001, ‘Use of an upwelling diffusion energy balance model to simulate and diagnose A/OGCM results’, Clim. Dyn. 17, 601–613.Google Scholar
  23. Sausen, R. and Schumann, U.: 2000, ‘Estimates of the climate response to aircraft CO2 and NOx emission scenarios’, Clim. Change 44, 27–58.Google Scholar
  24. Schmalensee, R.: 1993, ‘Comparing greenhouse gases for policy purposes’, Energy J. 14, 245–255.Google Scholar
  25. Sihra, K., Hurley, M. D., Shine, K. P. and Wallington, T. J.: 2001, ‘Updated radiative forcing estimates of sixty-five halocarbons and non-methane hydrocarbons’, J. Geophys. Res. 106, 20493–20505.Google Scholar
  26. Skodvin, T. and Fuglestvedt, J. S.: 1997, ‘A comprehensive approach to climate change: Political and scientific considerations’, Ambio 26, 351–358.Google Scholar
  27. Smith, S. J.: 2003, ‘The evaluation of greenhouse gas indices’, Clim. Change 58, 261–265.Google Scholar
  28. Smith, S. J. and Wigley, T. M. L.: 2000a, ‘Global warming potentials, 1: Climatic implications of emissions reductions’, Clim. Change 44, 445–457.Google Scholar
  29. Smith, S. J. and Wigley, T. M. L.: 2000b, ‘Global warming potentials, 2: Accuracy’, Clim. Change 44, 459–469.Google Scholar
  30. Wigley, T. M. L.: 1998, ‘The Kyoto protocol: CO2, CH4 and climate implications’, Geophys. Res. Lett. 25, 2285–2288.Google Scholar
  31. Wigley, T. M. L. and Raper, S. C. B.: 1993, ‘Future changes in global-mean temperature and sea level. In: Warrick, R. A., Barrow, E. M. and Wigley, T. M. L. (eds.), Climate and Sea Level Change: Observations, Projections and Implications, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.Google Scholar
  32. WMO: 1999, Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 1998: Global Ozone Research and Monitoring Project Report No 44, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  33. Wuebbles, D. J., Jain, A. K., Patten, K. O. and Grant, K. E.: 1995, ‘Sensitivity of direct global warming potentials to key uncertainties’, Clim. Change 29, 265–297.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Keith P. Shine
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jan S. Fuglestvedt
    • 2
  • Kinfe Hailemariam
    • 3
  • Nicola Stuber
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of MeteorologyThe University of ReadingReadingUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.CICERO – Center for International Climate and Environmental ResearchOsloNorway
  3. 3.National Meteorological Services AgencyAddis AbabaEthiopia
  4. 4.DLR – Institut für Physik der AtmosphäreOberpfaffenhofenGermany

Personalised recommendations