IN the past few years, many workers have noted that the combined effect on climate of increases in the concentrations of a large number of trace gases could rival or even exceed that of the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide1–3. These trace gases, principally methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons, are present at concentrations that are two to six orders of magnitude lower than that of carbon dioxide, but are important because, per molecule, they absorb infrared radiation much more strongly than carbon dioxide. Indeed a recent study4 shows that trace gases are responsible for 43% of the increase in radiative forcing from 1980 to 1990 (Fig. 1). An index to compare the contribution of various 'greenhouse' gas emissions to global warming is needed to develop cost-effective strategies for limiting this warming. Estimates of relative contributions to additional greenhouse forcing during particular periods do not fully take into account differences in atmospheric residence times among the important greenhouse gases. Here we extend recent work on halocarbons5,6 by proposing an index of global warming potential for methane, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and CFCs relative to that of carbon dioxide. We find, for example, that methane has, per mole, a global warming potential 3.7 times that of carbon dioxide. On this basis, carbon dioxide emissions account for 80% of the contribution to global warming of current greenhouse gas emissions, as compared with 57% of the increase in radiative forcing for the 1980s.
This is a preview of subscription content
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Lacis, A., Hansen, J., Lee, P., Mitchell, T. & Lebedeff, S. Geophys. Res. Lett. 8, 1035–1038 (1981).
Ramanathan, V., Cicerone, R. J., Singh, H. B. & Kiehl, J. T. J. geophys. Res. 90, 5547–5566 (1985).
Hansen, J. et al. J. geophys. Res. 93, 9341–9364 (1988).
Hansen, J., Lacis, A. & Prather, M. J. geophys. Res. 94, 16417–16421 (1989).
Rogers, J. & Stephens, D. J. geophys. Res. 90, 2423–2428 (1988).
Fisher, D. et al. Nature 344, 513–516 (1990).
Swart, R., de Boois, H. & Vellinga, P. in The Full Range of Responses to Anticipated Climatic Change Ch. 9, 137–159 (United Nations Environment Program and The Beijer Institute, Stockholm, 1989).
Smith, K. & Ahuja, D. Clim. Change (in the press).
Noordwijk Declaration on Atmospheric Pollution and Climatic Change (Netherlands Ministry of Environment, The Hague, November 1989).
DeLuchi, M., Sperling, D. & Johnston, R. Transportation Fuels and the Greenhouse Effect (University of California. University Energy Research Group, UER-182, 1987).
Okken, P. & Kram, T. CH4 / CO-emission from fossil fuels global warming potential ESC-WR-89-12 (ECN, Petten, The Netherlands, June 1989).
Dickinson, R. & Cicerone, R. Nature 319, 109–114 (1986).
Wuebbles, D. The Relative Efficiency of a Number of Halocarbons for Destroying Stratospheric Ozone Report UCID-18924 (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, 1981).
Maier-Reimer, E. & Hasselmann, K. Clim. Dyn. 2, 63–90 (1987).
Edmonds, J. & Wuebbles, D. A Primer on Greenhouse Gases (US Department of Energy, NBB-0083, Washington, DC, 1988).
Lashof, D. Clim. Change 14, 213–242 (1989).
Thompson, A. & Cicerone, R. J. geophys. Res. 91, 10853–10864 (1986).
Lashof, D. & Tirpak, D. Policy Options for Stabilizing Global Climate Draft Report to Congress (US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, 1989).
Cicerone, R. & Oremland, R. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 2, 299–328 (1988).
Prather, M. An Assessment Model for Atmospheric Composition NASA Conference Publication 3023 (NASA, Washington, DC, 1989).
Thompson, A. et al. Atmos. Envir. 23, 519–532 (1989).
Ramanathan, V. et al. Rev. Geophys. 25, 1441–1482 (1987).
Okken, P. Energy Policy (in the press).
About this article
Cite this article
Lashof, D., Ahuja, D. Relative contributions of greenhouse gas emissions to global warming. Nature 344, 529–531 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1038/344529a0
Spatiotemporal dynamics of forest ecosystem carbon budget in Guizhou: customisation and application of the CBM-CFS3 model for China
Carbon Balance and Management (2022)
Scientific Reports (2022)
Observational analysis of decadal and long-term hydroclimate drivers in the Mediterranean region: role of the ocean–atmosphere system and anthropogenic forcing
Climate Dynamics (2022)
Environment, Development and Sustainability (2022)
Excessive greenhouse gas emissions from wastewater treatment plants by using the chemical oxygen demand standard
Science China Earth Sciences (2022)