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8/7/2011 3:03 PM

etc. metric tons.g. because it is not necessary to engage at that level of scientific technicality to be an intelligent user of GWP values.. I’ll try and give a primer here on it. Auditing.) not to units 2 of 9 8/7/2011 3:03 PM . GWP values are applied to units of mass (e. I’m going to skip over the underlying physics and chemistry..) Global Warming Potentials (GWPs) are a quantified measure of the globally averaged relative radiative forcing impacts of a particular greenhouse gas. Who We Are Mission Values Personnel History Internships Donate Blog Recent GHG News Home » Inside the Institute » What is a Global Warming Potential? And which one do I use? Quick Links Courses Membership Mission ? Testimonials ? Who We Train InsidetheInstitute Jun 28 What is a Global Warming Potential? And which one do I use? Inside the Institute Posted by Michael Gillenwater -5 Comments This question is not as silly as it may seem. kilograms. Since not everyone in the field has studied atmospheric chemistry (I admit I have. but wouldn’t expect the range of folks working on these issues to have the same background). It is defined as the cumulative radiative forcing – both direct and indirect effects – integrated over a period of time from the emission of a unit mass of gas relative to some reference gas (IPCC 1996). http://ghginstitute. So to be clear.GHG and Carbon Accounting. and is so fundamental to GHG management that many practitioners are probably afraid to seek clarification out of fear of looking bad.. you can refer to the latest IPCC assessment report published in 2007 — see Chapter 2 of the Working Group I report. (If you want to dig into the science more. But first you should read my previous blog post on greenhouse gases. Management & Training | Greenh. Carbon dioxide (CO2) was chosen by the IPCC as this reference gas and its GWP is set equal to one (1).

Indirect radiative forcing occurs when chemical transformations involving the original gas produce a gas(es) that is/are also a greenhouse gas.g.e. Auditing. leaving no more radiation for additional concentrations of gas in the atmosphere to absorb.. Now. So if a gas is short-lived and does not have a global concentration because it is destroyed quickly and emitted in different amounts in different places.. cubic feet. and the atmospheric lifetime of the gas We typically only use GWP values for gases that have a long atmospheric lifetime (i.. are CO2. HFCs. CH4. In sum..g.. The more that window is filled up.” as the name implies. there are three more complications to this story. or when a gas influences other radiatively important processes such as the atmospheric lifetimes of other gases. and tropospheric aerosols ( of volume (e. Because only these gases last long enough in the atmosphere to mix evenly and spread throughout the atmosphere to form a relatively uniform concentration. NOx. PFCs. other ambient air pollutants (e. So. GWP values are meant to be “global.g. Management & Training | Greenh.e.GHG and Carbon Accounting. SO2 products and black carbon) vary spatially. tropospheric ozone. the less there is to absorb. Specifically. http://ghginstitute. the higher the GWP value the more infrared radiation the gas will tend to absorb over its lifetime in the atmosphere. There are three key factors that determine the GWP value of a GHG: the gases absorption of infrared radiation. GHGs each absorb in a given “window” of the spectrum.. N2O. The short-lived gases such as water vapor. and SF6. what wavelengths) the gas absorbs radiation. carbon monoxide. then it can’t really have a GWP.. Some GWP values may also account for indirect as well as direct effects. and NMVOCs). liters). and therefore have global average concentrations. where along the electromagnetic spectrum (i. as concentrations of certain gases increase they can saturate that wavelength. and consequently it is difficult to quantify their global radiative forcing impacts. cubic meters. in years). 3 of 9 8/7/2011 3:03 PM . The first is that gases will absorb certain wavelengths of radiation. the gases with relatively long atmospheric lifetimes that tend to be evenly distributed throughout the atmosphere.

You have to know what the integration period is to make sure you are using the correct GWP. The last complication relates to the fact that the IPCC keeps updating its GWP values with each of its major scientific assessment reports. that means that we have to define a time period for the integration to occur. the problem is that people are using and making commitments based on GWP values while these revisions are taking place. someone will use something different.. It makes sense to update GWP values as our scientific understanding improves. It would be like moving the 4 of 9 8/7/2011 3:03 PM . say a company or a country says it will reduce its emissions by 10% and achieves that goal. The typical periods that the IPCC publishes are 20. not realizing that they are breaking convention. Then all of a sudden GWP values change and now they no longer make the goal if new GWP values are used (due to the mix of different GHGs they emit and reduce). However. http://ghginstitute. which would basically mean that accounted for every bit of radiative forcing of every molecule of gas as long as it existed in the atmosphere.GHG and Carbon The second complication is one that occasionally trips people up. But occasionally. 100. Management & Training | Greenh. Now. It is also possible to compute an infinite time horizon GWP value. and 500 years. Auditing. to be clear. everyone pretty much universally uses 100 year GWP values.. so you often never see the time period even cited. Remember above when we defined GWP by saying “cumulative radiative forcing…integrated over a period of time”? Well. So.

But the truth is. In addition. The result of the varying time periods and the regular updates by the IPCC is a complicated state of affairs. even though some gases have lifetimes of thousands of years. As you can see in this table. Since then the IPCC has updated its GWP values twice. then the GWPs of the other gases relative to CO2 also change. the Parties to the UNFCCC said: In addition to communicating emissions in units of mass. (FCCC/CP/1996/15/Add. And we use the old 1995 values. Parties may choose also to use global warming potentials (GWPs) to reflect their inventories and projections in carbon dioxide-equivalent terms. improved atmospheric lifetime estimates. Specifically. Parties may also use other time horizons.. PFCs and other trace gases). and again in 2007.. net after you already kicked the ball towards the goal.GHG and Carbon Accounting. For this reason. The result has been a proliferation of GWP values out there that leads to a lot of confusion. http://ghginstitute. the Kyoto Protocol fixed the use of GWP values published by the IPCC in 1996 in its Second Assessment Report. using information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Second Assessment Report. each gas has number of GWP values that you could chose. are consistent in their emissions accounting (these GWP values are highlighted in red in the table). Management & Training | Greenh.6 7 6. This table presents GWP values for the most common GHGs (there are many more if we listed all the HFCs.5 5 of 9 8/7/2011 3:03 PM . When the radiative forcing of CO2 is updated.1) The major causes for the IPCC’s updates to GWP values involved new laboratory or radiative transfer results. contrary to what a lay person might expect. we typically only use values over a 100 year time period. once in 2001. so all the climate change programs and policies around the world. Any use of GWPs should be based on the effects of the greenhouse gases over a 100-year time horizon. Table: Global Warming Potential Values from the IPCC for some key GHGs GWP time horizon Lifetime (years) 20 years 100 years 500 years 1 Carbon dioxide Complex 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 12 Methane 12 12 72 62 56 25 23 21 7. and improved calculations of CO2 radiative forcing and CO2 response function. including the Kyoto Protocol.

200 16.000 5.000 3.8 13.830 3.200 8. = (mass of gas) x (GWP) Where: mass CO2 Eq.300 435 400 420 50.390 5.430 1.900 4.800 14 HFC-134a 13.000 50. http://ghginstitute.300 1.900 34.000 CF4 (PFC) 50.8 3.500 11.700 9.300 3.400 1. can be expressed as follows: mass CO2 Eq.400 16. Auditing. Management & Training | Greenh.210 3.200 Sulfur hexafluoride 3.100 22.GHG and Carbon Accounting.300 23.300 22.100 12.200 3..400 9.200 9. metric tons) of Carbon Dioxide Equivalents GWP = Global Warming Potential 6 of 9 8/7/2011 3:03 PM ..800 32.400 7.g. the relationship between mass of a gas and mass of CO2 Eq..000 10.600 15.000 14. = mass (e.000 11.900 Row 1: 2007 IPCC AR4 (See Chapter 2 of Working Group I report) Row 2: 2001 IPCC TAR (See Chapter 6 of Working Group I report) Row 3: 1996 IPCC SAR (See Chapter 2 of the Working Group I report) To wrap things up for the sake of being thorough.900 114 Nitrous oxide 114 120 289 275 280 298 296 310 153 156 170 270 HFC-23 260 264 12.800 12.700 6.200 32.

and Wigley. 2000: Global warming potentials: 1. Geophysical Research Letters 25. mitigation of the short-lived warming influences has sometimes been thought of as a way of “buying time” to put CO2 emission controls into place. but there are many other (including more recent) papers on the topic. Climatic Change 44. here is an excerpt from the recently published National Research Council report. Climatic implications of emissions reductions. GWPs have serious flaws. Previous post in this series.GHG and Carbon Accounting. Accuracy. Michael Gillenwater Commented On July 11th. http://ghginstitute. 7 of 9 8/7/2011 3:03 PM . Smith. according to the IPCC. 459-469. Excellent article (as always). 445–457. though some GWPs have larger uncertainty than others. are the best index to use for GHG emissions accounting. this has little or no effect on the long term climate. The effect of mitigation of methane and black carbon is thus to trim the peak warming rather than limit the long-term warming to which the Earth is subjected. Derik Broekhoff Commented On July 22nd.L. If the early action to mitigate methane emissions were done instead of actions that could have reduced net cumulative carbon emissions.. Management & Training | Greenh.J. Users should be aware of these flaws.. Auditing. S. but as “CO2-equivalents.. I encourage readers and members to look at the papers Tom’s references and give your thoughts on the topic. T. CH4 and climate implications. T.L. and Wigley.L. 2285–2288. in their current form.nap. S.M. Climatic Change 44. Wigley. T.M. I was hoping that someone would open up the debate over whether GWPs.” And in case you were wondering. Be sure to label the resulting emissions not as CO2. Smith. To amplify on Tom’s comment. 2010 at 10:07 Michael.J. 1998: The Kyoto Protocol: CO2.M. 2000: Global warming potentials: 2. This is a fallacy. 2010 at 16:16 Although built into the Kyoto GWPs typically have an uncertainty of roughly ±35 percent. 2010 at 16:44 Tom. While one does buy a rapid reduction by reducing methane or black carbon emissions. because of the persistence of CO2 in the atmosphere…. Share and Enjoy: 5 Comments Tom Wigley Commented On June So the calculation is easy. Just multiply the mass of your gas by its GWP value to get CO2 equivalent emissions. “Stabilization Targets for Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentrations” (available at http://www.. The three papers listed below are my own work. which is essentially controlled by CO2 emissions..html): “Insofar as it is perceived that control of methane or black carbon may be technically easier or less economically disruptive than controlling CO2 emissions.

because they think the 2007 updates are superior).g. within which we are making this tradeoff. In reality.. we don’t have such a budget (yet). in setting overall emissions limits… (By the way. One hopes that policymakers will explicitly recognize this. In other words. studies measuring the GWP of pavement or the GWP of various cook stoves. and it could be reasonably argued that if we exclude CH4 offsets from a cap-and-trade program. The discussion around choosing reductions in methane vs C02 is an interesting one and not something I have heard before.. and should not be viewed as substituting for one another. companies should report both CO2-e and breakdown by gas so further analysis is possible..GHG and Carbon Accounting.g. however. 2010 at 15:45 We are refining a standards document that currently includes references to the “GWP” of a given manufactured product.” This certainly calls into question the notion of using CH4 reductions to offset CO2 emissions. I would prefer to see companies use the same GWP when reporting CO2-e than go their our own way (e. As an investor I think from a bottom-up (company level) perspective comparability trumps accuracy i. through sequestration in trees or soils) can be considered an offset to CO2 emissions… a topic for another post?) Karen Henk Commented On November 1st. Peak trimming in that case would come at the expense of an increased warming that will persist for millennia. My only observation is that the idea of reducing CH4 “instead of” CO2 implies a predetermined budget for emissions reductions. the longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere also has implications for whether temporary storage of C (e. Carbon emission control and short term forcing agent control are two separate control knobs that affect entirely distinct aspects of the Earth’s climate. 2011 at 16:14 This is a very helpful article and conversation thank you. even where there is debate about the accuracy of GWP. However. allowing CH4 (and certain other non-CO2) offsets should be seen as means to achieving short-term avoidance of peak warming. Is there any context in which it would be appropriate to measure or reference the “GWP” or “GWP impact” of a manufactured product (rather than a GHG)? Pablo Berrutti Commented On June 1st. but this seems to be an improper use of the term. I have seen precedents to this. not as substiting CH4 reductions for CO2.e. caps would be set accordingly higher. for example. meaning there is not necessarily a 1-for-1 the long term CO2 concentration would be increased as a consequence. Are you suggesting that it is better to allow landfill (and other sources) to continue emitting CH4 rather than capturing the CH4 and burning it for energy use (which creates C02)? Leave Comment Name Email Website 8 of 9 8/7/2011 3:03 PM . Management & Training | Greenh. http://ghginstitute. Auditing.

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