Broader perspectives for comparing different greenhouse gases

Martin Manning, Andy Reisinger

Abstract

Over the last 20 years, different greenhouse gases have been compared, in the context of climate change, primarily through the concept of global warming potentials (GWPs). This considers the climate forcing caused by pulse emissions and integrated over a fixed time horizon. Recent studies have shown that uncertainties in GWP values are significantly larger than previously thought and, while past literature in this area has raised alternative means of comparison, there is not yet any clear alternative. We propose that a broader framework for comparing greenhouse gases has become necessary and that this cannot be addressed by using simple fixed exchange rates. From a policy perspective, the framework needs to be clearly aligned with the goal of climate stabilization, and we show that comparisons between gases can be better addressed in this context by the forcing equivalence index (FEI). From a science perspective, a framework for comparing greenhouse gases should also consider the full range of processes that affect atmospheric composition and how these may alter for climate stabilization at different levels. We cover a basis for a broader approach to comparing greenhouse gases by summarizing the uncertainties in GWPs, linking those to uncertainties in the FEIs consistent with stabilization, and then to a framework for addressing uncertainties in the corresponding biogeochemical processes.

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