What is Global Warming Potential? Causes and Effects

The causes of global warming, its effects, its potential along with impacts on the environment, remedies, etc. are explained in this article. Let’s explore!

What is Global Warming Potential?

Global Warming GWP Definition

In simple words, the global warming potential (GWP) is the ability of greenhouse gases to trap the extra heat in the atmosphere over time relative to carbon dioxide (CO2).

  • The global warming potential is often calculated over 100 years, it is also known as 100 years GWP.
  • The global warming potential is just a quantifying measure calculating the radiation forces impacting by the specific green house gas.

Standard Reference Value of GWP

The carbon dioxide (CO2) due to its large time sustainability is considered as the reference value for calculating the GWP. The value of GWP of carbon dioxide (CO2) is 1. Now considering GWP CO2 as 1, we can find out how much a particular gas can contain or trap the heat. This common scale allows us to find out the emissions from different sectors and the efforts we need to control them.

GWP Consideration

There are few basic considerations for GWP,

  • In the GWP measurement, the short-lived gases are not considered.
  • The gases which can last about years of time are considered. There’s an obvious reason, short-lived gases will not spread evenly with uniform concentration.
  • The higher the global warming potential value the more will be the ability of gases to absorb infrared radiations.
  • The GWP values are calculated and are published according to the Kyoto protocol, also an international panel on climate change (IPCC) has updated the values of GWP for different greenhouse gases.

GWP Calculation

Calculating global warming potential depends generally on three factors.

  • First is the absorption of infrared radiation by the given gas.
  • Second is the location of absorbing wavelengths by specific gas and
  • Lastly the lifetime of the given gas in the atmosphere.

The important term considered in the global warming potential is the time horizon, let’s know more about it. Also Read: Ozone Depletion Potential

Causes of Global Warming & Effects

Before understanding the causes of global warming, or global warming potential, or GWP, let’s try to understand global warming first. In recent times, our environment gets impacted by various factors. Technological advancements are having a wider negative impact on the environment. One of them is the greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are abbreviated as GHGs.

  • These are the gases that absorb and emit radiant energy within their thermal infrared range.
  • This causes the greenhouse effect which affects the environment.
  • The effects of increased greenhouse gases lead to global warming.
causes of global warming effects potential GWP
Causes of global warming effects potential GWP

Here, the term Global warming potential comes into play. Global warming potential means the potential by which Earth’s surface temperature is increased with respect to the previous periods of time by greenhouse gases. The visible changes due to global warming are climate changes which can be seen all over the world nowadays. We can say,

  • The green house gases are main reasons for the global warming.
  • Carbon dioxide and methane contribute about 90% of the emissions percentage of greenhouse gases.
  • There are other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, we will see them in the next sections.

Before knowing more about the global warming potential, we should know about greenhouse gases and global warming in brief. Because greenhouse gases are the largest contributor to global warming. Also Read: What is Psychrometry?

What are the Greenhouse Gases?

Starting with the names of gases these are,

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2),
  • Methane (CH4),
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O).
  • Water (H2O).

Also, note that without the greenhouse gases the earth’s temperature would be -18 degrees Celsius.

greenhouse gases Image: climate.nasa.gov
Greenhouse gases Image: climate.nasa.gov

Based on history & the modern era,

  • If we look into history there were already some climate changes but those were not as vast as they are now.
  • The industrial revolution began in the 17th century.
  • It was started at such a large scale that it is expected about a 45% increase in the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.

If you are thinking that O2, N2 is already present in our environment so why don’t they affect the environment? They are not greenhouse gases because molecules containing two atoms of the same element such as O2 and N2 have no net change in the distribution of their electrical charges when they vibrate, and monatomic gases such as Ar do not have vibrational modes.

This is the reason they don’t affect by infrared radiations. There are vast effects of greenhouse gases and the major is global warming. Let’s see how they are contributing to global warming.

Causes of Global Warming

There are many causes of global warming. The earth absorbs the light rays from the sun and radiates them to gives out heat. So in the atmosphere, there are various gases including the greenhouse gases as mentioned in the above section.

causes of global warming
Causes of global warming
  • These gases absorb the infrared radiation rays and gets trapped in the gases itself.
  • They don’t reach out to earth surface and return to space instead they get stuck in the green house gases. Also, ozone layer traps some gases.

After the industrial revolution the extraction of fossil fuels, deforestation continued for a long time. Every country was adopting the industrial revolution era and trying to produce more and more without any measures and thoughts about the environment. Because of this the levels of,

  • CO2, methane,
  • CFCs and
  • nitrous oxides were raised.

If the numbers are to be checked,

  • CO2 levels are increased by almost 45%
  • whereas the methane levels are increased by 160% in 2018 compared to the 1750.

From the last 8000000 years, the CO2 levels have never been so high as they are today. The CO2 emissions primarily come from the burning of fossil fuels. Deforestation and industrial processes add up the levels of CO2 again.

These gases don’t get washed away and stay for years in the atmosphere. The years they remain in the atmosphere their time frame is measured. This task is done in the global warming potential scenario. Now it’s time to move towards actual Global warming potential. Check out a nice video on Global Warming Causes & Effects,

Effects of global warming

Climate change

The main and most issue we all should worry about is climate change. Climate change can affect in various ways on humans, wildlife, and all the other aspects. Are you wondering what exactly is climate change?

  • The studies have shown increased drought as well as floods situation and heat situation appearing simultaneously with increased frequency.
  • In the last few years even in the monsoon in India, the states are running dry with increased heat and drought situation in some parts whereas the flood-like situation in other parts.
  • This is not only one country, there are various changes happening all over the world.
  • The Antarctica ice melting is one reason we all may have known. Due to the melting of ice from Antarctica region scientist predicts about 61-110 cm rise in the sea levels.
  • This whole scenario is causing the mean earth’s temperature to rise. Even with the slight temperature rise, the effects will be devastating.

In this 2020-year coronavirus pandemic, the factories were shut down. On-road vehicles and everything was shut down for years.  India recorded pretty much higher rainfall even in the drought areas. The tipping points and long terms impacts are predicted to be seen soon as the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are melting.

Nature and wildlife effects

As we have seen in the above section, there is really vast drought situation at one end and on the end, there is flood like situations.

  • Due to the dry seasons, the desserts are getting expanded.
  • The increased temperature and its various effects are the cause of the extinction of some species.
  • The bushfires in forests are increased nowadays. As the ice is melting the animals like polar bears are disappearing in the warm regions of the arctic.

Effects on humans

Climate change is affecting every being on the earth. Uneven climatic conditions are making it difficult for living in some parts of the world. The natural calamities are increasing day by day. Because of these conditions, economic stability is getting destabilized. The developing nations may face challenges soon.

Food and health

The extreme weather conditions are causing a lot of damage to health.

  • The indirect effects such as crop failures, infectious diseases are getting increased.
  • These are transmitted easily in warmer climates.
  • Due to the failure of the crops, food shortages are getting visible in lots of parts of the world.

The production of agricultural products and their yields are greatly reduced. Uneven rainfalls and climatic conditions are getting difficult for the crops to survive. In drought areas, water availability is becoming a much larger issue. These are some of the effects of global warming. If they are not controlled the effects are irreversible. Let’s see some solutions employed in brief. Also Read: Refrigeration Cycle

Solutions for Global warming

Reducing the use of Greenhouse gases

The international panel on climate change (IPCC) has proposed to keep global warming below 1.5 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels to avoid drastic effects.

  • IPCC has stated the greenhouse gases should be phased out by 2050 completely.
  • In the next decade, countries may need to triple their effort to reduce the use of GHGs.

Use of clean energy

Most of the greenhouse gases come from vehicles, fossil fuel burnings.

  • Alternate fuels should be used and clean energy should be employed in every possible sector.
  • Already the fossil fuels are getting depleted, they can be preserved and the environment can be befitted by the use of renewable energy sources.
  • Electricity generation from solar and wind energy should be preferred.

Reduction of carbon content

The factories in the productions give out carbon dioxide. Rather than releasing it, it can be stored.

  • Though the ways are much more expensive nowadays.
  • The most natural and good way is reforestation.
  • Tress will absorb carbon dioxide and can maintain the levels.


Global warming has increased drastically till now. For the present effects there should be ways to counter the effects, like

  • improved coastline protection,
  • better disaster management, and
  • the development of more resistant crops.

Adaptation is getting a more important factor in surviving climate changes.

Global Warming Potential of Common Gases

The global warming potential is calculated over a time period of years. As we have seen earlier, the short-lived gas is mostly not considered, it may have some effects initial phase but not for a longer period of time.

Like methane has a potential of 34 over 100 years but it has 86 GWP number for the first 20 years. The GWP value also depends on how much time gas can sustain or decays over time. Generally, 100 years of time is used. Let’s check out the global warming potential of some common gases. This list is according to the IPCC 2013-AR5.

Name of GasesLifetime GWP NumberGWP Number
(years)20 years 100 years
1) Carbon111
2.) Methane12.48428
3.) Nitrous oxide121264265
4.) HFC- 232221080012400
5) HFC- 134a13.437101300
6)CF4 (PFC) 5000048806630
7) Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)32001750023500
8) Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)5001280016100

As we already knew the main cause of global warming is greenhouse gases. They come from various sectors and the GWP is helpful to counter the emissions by quantifying measures. The effects of global warming are much wider and it’s a threat to life on earth. Let’s know some of the effects of increasing the GWP of gases in other words the impacts of global warming.

Kyoto Protocol for Global Warming Causes & Effects

In the year 1992, the causes of global warming and effects were highlighted. The united nations conference on the environment and development was held in Rio De Janeiro. The united nations countries joined the protocol. Kyoto protocol’s main objectives were to control the emissions of human-produced greenhouse emissions.

  • It includes the use of clean energy, phasing out the greenhouse gases.
  • Considering the national differences like wealth, the capacity of each nation the protocols were decided.
  • The Kyoto Protocol legally binds countries to reduce greenhouse emissions.
  • All the countries should prepare their policies and their ways to counter the use of greenhouse gases.
  • The credits were given to the countries that employ clean energy which they can trade.

A solution like this is expected to slow down the global warming temperature rise. It is a serious issue because the effects are irreversible and natural calamities are not easy to stop or survive. Also, there are difficulties for developing nations to employ the clean energy solution due to lower funding.


Hence, we got the basic knowledge of global warming potential along with causes & effects.


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