1.4 Kyoto Protocol/Paris Agreement and Global Warming Potential (GWP)

Much like the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (chapter 2.11), the Kyoto Protocol was the international commitment to climate change (global warming).

The Protocol strengthens the global pledge to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Protocol was developed and then adopted at the Third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in December 1997, which stipulates developed countries must legally meet emissions reduction targets for 2000 and beyond.

The objective of the Protocol was to reverse the ever-increasing trend of GHG emissions into the atmosphere by developed countries, which began during the Industrial Revolution.

However, it is important to note that the Kyoto Protocol has been nullified due to the United States refusal to ratify the agreement. The Paris Agreement has since replaced it.

For more info, visit these sites: Kyoto Protocol & The Paris Agreement

The Basket of Gases and the Global Warming Potential Index

The six main gases under the Kyoto Protocol/Paris Agreement include:

  •  Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  •  Methane (CH4)
  •  Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  •  Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)
  •  Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  •  Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)

Each greenhouse gas is converted into an equivalent unit to which all gases can be compared to – in this case, carbon dioxide (similar to the ozone depleting potential, or ODP, index).

A Global Warming Potential (GWP) Index was developed to assess the potential negative environmental impact that individual gases have by measuring their heat trapping capabilities.

The ability of a GHG to contribute to overall climate change will depend on a host of factors, including the amount of gas released, the gases’ relative atmospheric lifespan, and its ability to absorb outgoing infrared radiation.

The atmospheric lifetimes of carbon dioxide and halocarbons will vary greatly, with some lasting longer than others.

  • For example, in a 100-year time span since the simultaneous release of a single emission of carbon dioxide and HFC, 0% of the HFC will be present in the atmosphere whereas 41% of the carbon dioxide will remain (19% after 500 years).

Thus, the GWP of a gas is determined by assessing its ability to absorb infrared energy combined with the amount of the gas present in the atmosphere and its atmospheric lifespan before it is neutralized.