Nitrous oxide (N2O) is the third most important long-lived GHG and an important stratospheric ozone depleting substance. Agricultural practices and the use of N-fertilizers have greatly enhanced emissions of N2O. Here, we present estimates of N2O emissions determined from three global atmospheric inversion frameworks during the period 1998–2016. We find that global N2O emissions increased substantially from 2009 and at a faster rate than estimated by the IPCC emission factor approach. The regions of East Asia and South America made the largest contributions to the global increase. From the inversion-based emissions, we estimate a global emission factor of 2.3 ± 0.6%, which is significantly larger than the IPCC Tier-1 default for combined direct and indirect emissions of 1.375%. The larger emission factor and accelerating emission increase found from the inversions suggest that N2O emission may have a nonlinear response at global and regional scales with high levels of N-input.