LONDON: A new study has shown that European chemical manufacturers are surreptitiously venting large quantities of one of the world’s most powerful greenhouse gases.
The study by EPMA, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, published in Geophysical Research Letters, has demonstrated that Western European emissions of HFC-23, a super greenhouse gas with a global warming potential some 14,800 times higher than CO2, are as much as 140 per cent higher than the figures contained in national emissions reports.
HFC-23 is a waste gas from the production of HCFC-22, itself a powerful greenhouse gas used as a refrigerant and as a feedstock for the production of polymer products such as Teflon. HFC-23 destruction, an extremely low-cost process, is not currently mandated by the EU’s F-Gas Regulation and most producers claim to voluntarily destroy the gas.
The Swiss study showed that Solvay’s Solexis plant near Milan is venting 10-20 times more HFC-23 than Italy is reporting. Significantly higher emissions were also reported from The Netherlands, where US manufacturing giant Dupont operates a plant in Dordrecht, and to a lesser extent from the Ineos plant in the UK. Emission levels from the Arkema plant in France were also twice as high as reported values.
Later this year, the European Commission will decide whether to revise the F-Gas Regulation, which was adopted in 2006. As well as casting serious doubt on the reliability of emissions data reported under the Kyoto Protocol, EMPA’s findings highlight the weaknesses inherent in the EU’s F-Gas policy framework.
“Given the vast profits made by the European fluorochemical industry, it is absolutely scandalous that they are not destroying all HFC-23 produced by their factories,” said Clare Perry, Senior Campaigner for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
“The EU should mandate 100 per cent destruction of HFC-23 and there is an opportunity to do this right now with the revision of the F-Gas Regulation.”
Outside Europe, HCFC-22 manufacturers in China and India have received several billion dollars to capture and destroy the HFC-23 waste by-product under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The ‘avoided’ emissions are then converted to Carbon Credits and sold as offsets, primarily to EU nations and other Kyoto signatories to meet their emissions reductions targets.
The CDM’s HFC-23 projects have been widely condemned by EIA and other NGOs for subsidising super greenhouse gas manufacture by paying producers as much or more to destroy HFC-23 waste gas as can be earned from the sale of HCFC-22, thus providing a ‘perverse incentive’ for the manufacture of HCFC-22.
Recently, the EU moved to ban the use of these offsets in its Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) as of May 2013, and a proposal by Denmark has called upon EU Member States to similarly ban the use of HFC-23 offsets in meeting their national reduction targets in the non-traded sectors. Sixteen of the 27 EU nations have signed up to the Danish proposal but the rest remain uncommitted, including Italy which has a huge financial stake in HFC-23 offset projects.
“If EU manufacturers are under-reporting emissions, then one must assume this is a systemic problem and that the entire basis of current global mitigation efforts is fatally flawed,” stated Samuel LaBudde, EIA Senior Atmospheric Campaigner. “HFC-23 offsets have no place in international carbon markets and need to be banned, just as governments the world over need to mandate HFC-23 destruction by manufacturers.”
EIA and other NGOs are urging the EU to initiate a phase-out of all HFCs, which would be consistent with proposals to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and would begin to eliminate production and use of HFCs in favour of climate-friendly alternatives.
“The EU has trusted European manufacturers to voluntarily abate and accurately report emissions but this study shows that they’ve been deceived. With a global agreement to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol an increasingly tangible prospect, Europe needs to take strong action to stamp out this kind of abuse at home,” said Natasha Hurley, Global Climate Campaigner for EIA.
“Eliminating HFCs altogether is probably the most cost-effective climate mitigation around, and if Europe is to live up to its leadership role it should phase out all HFCs through a revised EU F-gas Regulation.”
Interviews and further comment are available from:
Clare Perry firstname.lastname@example.org / +34 664 348821
Natasha Hurley email@example.com +44 207 354 7960
Samuel LaBudde firstname.lastname@example.org (EIA US), +1 (202) 483-6621
1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses.
2. View the EMPA Study of HFC-23 emissions in Europe here.
3. For more information and to view EIA reports on HFC-23, the Montreal Protocol and related issues, click here.
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