Articles | Volume 3, issue 2
Research article
02 Nov 2012
Research article |  | 02 Nov 2012

On the relationship between metrics to compare greenhouse gases – the case of IGTP, GWP and SGTP

C. Azar and D. J. A. Johansson

Abstract. Metrics for comparing greenhouse gases are analyzed, with a particular focus on the integrated temperature change potential (IGTP) following a call from IPCC to investigate this metric. It is shown that the global warming potential (GWP) and IGTP are asymptotically equal when the time horizon approaches infinity when standard assumptions about a constant background atmosphere are used. The difference between IGTP and GWP is estimated for different greenhouse gases using an upwelling diffusion energy balance model with different assumptions on the climate sensitivity and the parameterization governing the rate of ocean heat uptake. It is found that GWP and IGTP differ by some 10% for CH4 (for a time horizon of less than 500 yr), and that the relative difference between GWP and IGTP is less for gases with a longer atmospheric life time. Further, it is found that the relative difference between IGTP and GWP increases with increasing rates of ocean heat uptake and increasing climate sensitivity since these changes increase the inertia of the climate system. Furthermore, it is shown that IGTP is equivalent to the sustained global temperature change potential (SGTP) under standard assumptions when estimating GWPs. We conclude that while it matters little for abatement policy whether IGTP, SGTP or GWP is used when making trade-offs, it is more important to decide whether society should use a metric based on time integrated effects such as GWP, a "snapshot metric" as GTP, or metrics where both economics and physical considerations are taken into account. Of equal importance is the question of how to choose the time horizon, regardless of the chosen metric. For both these overall questions, value judgments are needed.

Final-revised paper