Emissions of ultra-potent greenhouse gas surging, despite ban promise

21 Jan 2020

Image: © Pam Walker/Stock.adobe.com

Researchers have been shocked to discover that an extremely potent greenhouse gas that China and India promised to ban is at record levels.

A study published to Nature Communications has shown that the level of an extremely damaging greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is increasing at an alarming rate, three years after it was reported to have been almost eliminated.

An international team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, found that atmospheric levels of a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gas, known as HFC-23, is now at record levels. While the gas has very few industrial applications, levels have been soaring because it is vented into the atmosphere during the production of another chemical widely used in cooling systems in developing countries.

This is extremely worrying as one tonne of HFC-23 is equivalent to 12,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. In 2015, the biggest emitters of the gas – India and China – announced plans to significantly reduce its use in factories and by 2017 said they had almost completely eliminated it.

These statements led scientists to predict that global emissions of the greenhouse gas would drop by almost 90pc between 2015 and 2017. Co-author of the study Dr Matt Rigby said that the promises made by China and India made him and his fellow researchers “excited” to look at data showing a reduction in the gas. This, he added, would be a sign of a “big win for the climate”.

China at fault?

The discovery now has major implications for the Kigali Amendment for the protection of the stratospheric ozone layer, signed at the Montreal Protocol in 2016. If the estimated reduction had occurred, a whole year of Spain’s CO2 emissions could have been avoided.

Lead author of the study Dr Kieran Stanley suggested the likely culprit of rising HFC-23 levels is China, but he cannot categorically say that with the existing data.

“Although China and India are not yet bound by the amendment, their reported abatement would have put them on course to be consistent with Kigali. However, it looks like there is still work to do,” he said.

“Our study finds that it is very likely that China has not been as successful in reducing HFC-23 emissions as reported. However, without additional measurements, we can’t be sure whether India has been able to implement its abatement programme.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic