Key Facts about Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Emissions

June 12, 2024

Planet-warming nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions grew by 40 percent between 1980 and 2020, according to a new report published by the Global Carbon Project.

What is Nitrous Oxide (N2O)?

  • Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or happy gas, is a colorless, odorless, and non-flammable
  • While nitrous oxide is not flammable, it will support combustion to the same extent as oxygen. 
  • It leads to a state of euphoria, explaining its nickname, ‘laughing gas.’
  • It is soluble in water. Its vapors are heavier than air. 
  • Applications:
    • It is commonly used by dentists and medical professionals to sedate patients undergoing minor medical procedures.
    • The gas is also used as a propellant in food aerosols.
    • It is used in the automotive industry to enhance engine performance.

Highlights of the Report:

  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is the third most significant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane and is 273 times more potent than CO2 over 100 years.
    • The increase in greenhouse gases has already raised the Earth's average surface temperature by 1.15 degrees Celsius compared to the 1850-1900 average.
    • Anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions contribute to about 0.1 degrees of this warming.
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions grew by 40 percent between 1980 and 2020, with China being the largest emitter, followed by India and the US.
  • The top 10 emitters are China, India, the USA, Brazil, Russia, Pakistan, Australia, Indonesia, Turkey, and Canada.
  • The biggest human sources of N₂O are agriculture, industry, and the burning of forests or agricultural waste.
  • 74 percent of the nitrous oxide emissions over the last decade originated from agricultural practices, specifically the use of nitrogen fertilizers and animal manure.
  • In 2022, the concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere reached 336 parts per billion, 25 percent higher than in 1850-1900, significantly surpassing the predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.