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Is methane worse than carbon dioxide?

Yes, methane is a greenhouse gas about 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth, on a 100-year timescale, and is more than 80 times more powerful over 20 years!

Although methane (CH₄) remains in the atmosphere for less time than carbon dioxide (CO) (about 10 years), methane absorbs much more energy, enhancing its contribution to the Earth’s greenhouse effect.

The metric used to compare greenhouse gases (GHG) is the Global Warming Potential (GWP), which uses CO as the reference gas for the analysis.

GHGs heat the Earth by captivating energy and decreasing the rate at which energy escapes into space; they create a blanket that isolates our planet. Different GHGs can also have different results in global warming. These gases differ in two ways: the ability to absorb energy (their “radiative efficiency”) and the time they remain in the atmosphere (also known as “lifetime”).

The GWP measures how much energy emissions of a tonne of a gas will absorb in a given period, compared to emissions of a tonne of CO. The higher the GWP of a particular gas, the more it will heat the Earth compared to CO over time. The period generally used for GWP is 100 years.

CO, as the reference gas, has a GWP of one regardless of the time used. The CO residence time in the atmosphere is thousands of years. 


Myhre, G., D. Shindell, F.-M. Bréon, W. Collins, J. Fuglestvedt, J. Huang, D. Koch, J.-F. Lamarque, D. Lee, B. Mendoza, T. Nakajima, A. Robock, G. Stephens, T. Takemura and H. Zhang, 2013: Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

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