Credit: NASA

Alarming rise in ozone-destroying chemical points to likelihood of illegal production

Emissions of one of the chemicals directly responsible for creating a massive hole in the Earth’s ozone layer above Antarctica are on the rise.

New analysis of atmospheric data collected by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a sharp rise in the presence of trichlorofluoromethane, a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) more commonly known as CFC-11 – one of the harmful chemicals phased out under the Montreal Protocol.

The study shows that CFC emissions increased to about 67,000 tonnes per year in 2014-16, an estimated increase of about 25 per cent.

Clare Perry, our Head of Climate, warned: “This is a very serious issue and these figures point directly to new illegal production of CFC-11, which has been banned since 2010.

“CFC-11 is not just an ozone-depleting chemical but is also a very potent greenhouse gas with a high global warming potential of 4,750. It simply shouldn’t be in our atmosphere in such damaging quantities and the fact that it is highlights the critical importance of proactive monitoring and enforcement of the prohibition.”

The climate impact of 67,000 tonnes of CFC-11 is equivalent to 318,250,000 CO2 tonnes – which represents more than 68 million passenger cars driven for one year or annual emissions from nearly 80 coal fired power plants. Data indicates the growing emissions most likely originate in eastern Asia.

The Montreal Protocol was agreed in 1987 to regulate and eradicate the chemicals directly destroying Earth’s ozone layer, principally CFCs, and is widely regarded as the world’s most successful environmental treaty. CFCs were once widely used in aerosols, foams and as refrigerants.

Perry added: “What needs to happen now is for countries in the region – the most obvious being China as a major producer of these chemicals – to urgently pinpoint the source of these emissions and take action to stop their release.

“At this stage it’s not clear whether this steep rise is due to deliberate illegal use of CFCs or inadvertent emissions through some other process. Some CFCs are still legally produced for feedstock and other exempt uses, and it is possible that these are being diverted into illegal markets where they are eventually emitted to the atmosphere.”

Our most recent report on CFC smuggling and related issues is Update on the Illegal Trade in Ozone-Depleting Substances.