Thursday, 16 August, 2018

Scientists: Someone is manufacturing banned, ozone-destroying chemical

AFP  Getty Images AFP Getty Images
Frank Williams | 17 May, 2018, 05:42

Scientists have detected an unexpected rise in atmospheric levels of CFC-11, a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) highly damaging to the ozone layer.

CFC11 is the second-most abundant ozone-depleting gas in the atmosphere because of its long life and continuing emissions from a large reservoir of the chemical in foam building insulation and appliances manufactured before the mid-1990s.

The researchers have calculated that an additional 6,500 to 13,000 tons emitted each year in Eastern Asia would be enough to account for the trend. 'The increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production; this suggests unreported new production, which is inconsistent with the Montreal Protocol, ' Montzka and colleagues conclude.

Given that the boost in output will inevitably slow the planet's ozone layer recovery, discovering the source of the new production would seem an urgent priority.

Today, from its peak in 1993, CFC-11 concentrations have declined by 15 percent.

The study authors point out that while CFC-11 can persist in the atmosphere for 50 years, the overall level of chlorine atoms is still declining.

CFCs and other molecules have mainly eroded ozone in the upper stratosphere, and over the poles.

"The newer substances that are out there, the replacements for CFC-11, might be more hard or expensive for some countries to produce or get at".

Image NOAA
Image NOAA

At its most depleted, around the turn of the 21st century, the ozone layer had declined by about five percent.

The chemical is also a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

"It is therefore imperative that this finding be discussed at the next Ministerial meeting of Governments given recovery of the ozone layer is dependent on all countries complying with the Montreal Protocol (and its adjustments and amendments) with emissions globally dropping to zero".

Keith Weller, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, which administers the Montreal Protocol, said the findings will have to be verified by the scientific panel to the Protocol, and then would be put before the treaty's member countries. "It is critical that we take stock of this science, identify the causes of these emissions and take necessary action", he said.

Unreported production of CFC-11 outside of certain specific carve-out purposes in the treaty would be a "violation of worldwide law", Weller confirmed, though he said that the Protocol is "non-punitive" and the remedy would probably involve a negotiation with the offending party, or country.

But in the last few years, it looks like someone has started cheating.

"We're raising a flag to the global community to say, 'This is what's going on, and it is taking us away from timely recovery of the ozone layer, '" said Montzka.

Despite the increase in CFC-11 emissions, its concentration in the atmosphere continues to decrease, but only about half as fast as the decline observed a few years ago, and at a substantially slower rate than expected.

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