Image showing the ozone layer above Antarctica (NASA)

Major win for the climate as door closes on HFC-23

In a major win for the climate, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) – the world’s leading voluntary greenhouse gas program – has announced it will be turning its back on the super greenhouse gas HFC-23.

The move acknowledges progress under the Montreal Protocol, G20 and other bilateral government discussions on the international regulation of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

HFC-23, a by-product in the production of the chemical HCFC-22 which is primarily used in air-conditioning and refrigeration, is 14,800 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2).

The best available technologies and maintenance practices allow 99.99 per cent of HFC-23 to be destroyed at very low cost; however, EIA’s investigations have exposed how the sale of HFC-23 credits has become a multi-billion dollar business while atmospheric concentrations of the gas have increased significantly. In some cases, companies were producing HCFC-22 just for the value of destroying the HFC-23 produced.

Although the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme and other carbon markets have already banned the trade of HFC-23 credits, voluntary markets have remained a potential venue for their exchange.

“The voluntary carbon markets are used by individuals and companies to green their footprints but HFC-23 credits are actually disastrous for the climate,” said Mark W. Roberts, International Policy Advisor at EIA, Washington D.C. “EIA lauds VCS for rejecting a methodology which would have let chemical companies continue to profit from destroying HFC-23 as well as for their decision to no longer consider new methodologies and projects relating to this gas.”

Avipsa Mahapatra, International Climate Policy Analyst at EIA, added: “Any system which provides financial rewards for the destruction of this potent climate-damaging gas threatens to undermine the goals of the Montreal Protocol and the protection of the ozone layer. The prospect of marketing highly lucrative HFC-23 credits has undermined multilateral action for years.”

Natasha Hurley, EIA Global Environment Campaigner in London, said: “We strongly urge all countries with HCFC-22 facilities to mandate destruction of HFC-23 emissions as a simple cost of doing business. HFC-23 abatement should be subject to regulation, not left up to the market.

“These credits have already cost billions and subsidised chemical producers to pump millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Their day is done.”

There was strong support for global action to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol at the recent climate talks in Warsaw. The international regulation of HFCs will be taken up again at a series of major international conferences throughout 2014.