China and India are among a handful of countries threatening to release a “time bomb” of “super greenhouse gases” that will cause global rates to skyrocket, a new report warns.
The report, by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a nonprofit group based in Washington D.C. and London, warns that EIA investigators have found that China and India are already planning to release the gas HFC-23, which is a by-product created in the production of a chemical (HCFC-22) primarily used in air conditioning and refrigeration.
To give you an idea of how potentially damaging this could be, the EIA estimates that HFC-23 is around 14,800 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide.
“Chinese and Indian companies are holding the world hostage by threatening to set off a climate bomb if they don’t receive millions of dollars for the destruction of the HFC-23 that they are producing,” said Mark W. Roberts, EIA’s International Policy Advisor.
This is in part due to a recent change to the trade of so-called emission and carbon credits.
Emission or carbon credits are intended to control pollution by giving economic incentives for nations achieving reductions in pollutant emissions.
They allow countries a certain level of carbon credits and encourage businesses to incinerate rather than release the gases. If they do so, they will then have a surplus of credits that can be sold, thus providing a financial reward. Where HFC-23s are concerned, however, this is no longer the case.
While the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme had previously allowed for reasonably broad incentives such as covering the destruction of HFC-23, as of May 1, 2013, the scheme stopped HFC-23 credits and made them unusable in the European carbon market.
Markets in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and California have similarly done away with HFC-23 offsets.
This has meant that those countries that had previously earned considerable profits from the sale of such credits are now losing out and, as a result, are preparing to vent the gas.
While China would be the first, containing 11 of the world’s primary 19 HFC-23-producing factories, India, Mexico, Argentina, South Korea and Russia have indicated they may follow suit.
The EIA estimates that this would lead to the equivalent of 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions being released by the year 2020.
A China Fluoro Technology executive told the Financial Times that China is under no obligation to continue incineration, saying: “Our company is still incinerating the HFC-23 now. If the money is used up, we can stop incineration. We can’t go on doing this, we can’t afford it and we have no duty to do it.”
However, the EIA notes that most of the countries affected by this change have already installed the incinerators that would dispose of the HFC-23 in a cost-effective manner.
Should they need financial assistance there are also provisions under the Montreal Protocol, an agreement that developing nations should receive financial aid and resources for environmental protection efforts.
“Any venting of HFC-23 is a monumental scandal, given that destroying HFC-23 is about the cheapest climate mitigation available and the billions already made by these companies through the CDM [credit program],” Clare Perry, EIA’s Senior Campaigner, is quoted as saying.
However, there is hope that China will take action.
China has committed to phasing out HFC production, with Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, vowing to reduce pollution, an unprecedented move for China.
EIA’s Mark Roberts says this is the time for China to put such promises into action.
“The Chinese government has the opportunity to defuse a large portion of this ‘bomb.’ It should take the first step toward implementing the HFC agreement made two weeks ago by immediately mandating the destruction of HFC-23 in all Chinese plants.”
The EIA report also explicitly calls out companies from developed nations, saying that chemical giants such as Dupont, Honeywell and Arkema, share responsibility for ongoing HFC-23 emissions and must back legislation, like that being formulated in the European Union, and regulations that seek responsible HFC destruction.
Image credit: Thinkstock.
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