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UN to investigate banned ozone substances emissions

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Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC

Few weeks after a study released in Nature indicated that emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)-11 had unexpectedly increased in recent years – despite a global ban on production since 2010 – investigations by the independent Environmental Investigation Agency and the New York Times are pointing to eight factories in China as a primary source of these new emissions.

In response to these latest findings, UN Environment issued the following statement: “Illegal production of CFC-11 is nothing short of an environmental crime, which demands decisive action. At the same time, we must continue to dig deeper.

Based on the scale of detected emissions there is good reason to believe the problem extends beyond these uncovered cases of illegal production.

 
“These investigations are part of a wider body of scientific verification taking place with all parties to the Montreal Protocol.

These, taken together, will establish a clear and actionable picture of the quantities and precise locations of violation, as well as the possibility of other scientific explanations.
 
“It is in these moments that the mechanisms of the international community are more valuable than ever. The focus on this issue is intense, and thankfully we have strong support from all member states.

We are engaged in an ongoing dialogue with all parties to the Montreal Protocol, including close collaboration with China, to ensure any illegal activities so far detected are investigated and immediately halted.”

CFCs, which were once found in aerosols, refrigerants, solvents and other products, were banned in 1996 under the Montreal Protocol. Aside from their ozone impact, they are potent global warming agents.

The scientific assessment panel of the Montreal Protocol (SAP), which monitors the state of the ozone layer, is set to examine the findings and report to national representatives by the end of the year.

“We know it is coming from East Asia,” said Paul Newman of NASA and co-chair of the SAP.

But Newman warned against leaping to the conclusion there had been illegal production. The emissions could be a byproduct of an industrial process or leaked from transit or waste sites.

Li Shuo, a campaigner with Greenpeace China, told Climate Home News it would be hard to produce CFC-11 illegally.

“You do need a proper factory with sizable upfront investment for its production. It is not a business you can shut down overnight, hide, and pop up tomorrow.”

He added: “There were only a handful of installations in China, concentrated in the wealthier eastern side of the country which tends to have a better compliance record. These installations were regularly inspected.”

Researchers are expected to narrow down the rogue sources within the next year.

“What needs to happen is that countries in the region (and the most obvious being China as a major producer) need to do some studies to pinpoint the source of the emissions,” said Clare Perry, climate campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

After the SAP has reviewed the evidence, it will be for countries signed up to the Montreal Protocol to negotiate what to do about it.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said the country responsible for the emissions needed to find the source and shut it down.

If that did not happen, other countries could impose trade sanctions, starting by cutting support available through the Montreal Protocol, he added.

“The (Montreal Protocol) regime is our hero. It has solved the first great threat to the global atmosphere, and put the stratospheric ozone layer on the path to recovery by 2065.

It also has done more to protect the climate than any other agreement,” said Zaelke.

“The world cannot afford to have the MP fail.”


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