Story at a glance

  • Scientists expected to see a big drop in HFC-23 after claims by China and India in 2017 that they had almost completely eliminated emissions.
  • A new study found 2018 concentrations spiked.
  • Researchers say it is likely China has not been as successful in reducing emissions as it has reported.

A new study is reporting some bleak findings in China’s and India’s efforts to reduce levels of a potent greenhouse gas that has now hit record levels. 

A new report led by the University of Bristol published in the journal Nature Communications found that levels of the hydrofluorocarbon HFC-23, a gas more damaging than carbon dioxide in terms of its planet-heating properties, are higher than ever.

That’s despite China’s and India’s claim they reduced emissions of the gas to almost zero in 2017. 

The study says a year after the claim the countries reduced emissions, emissions hit an all-time high of 15,900 tons. The study notes that’s the equivalent of the yearly output from about 50 coal-fired power plants. 

HFC-23 is used to manufacture fridges, inhalers and air conditioners, and is vented to the atmosphere during the production of another chemical used in cooling systems in developing countries. In 2015, the two countries announced ambitious plans to curb emissions from factories that produced the gas, and reported they had almost completely eliminated HFC-23 by 2017. 

“When we saw the reports of enormous emissions reductions from India and China, we were excited to take a close look at the atmospheric data,” Matt Rigby, co-author of the study and a member of the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment, said in a statement.

Scientists expected to see global emissions drop by almost 90 percent between 2015 and 2017, which should have seen growth in atmospheric levels grind to a halt. 

“Our study finds that it is very likely that China has not been as successful in reducing HFC-23 emissions as reported,” Dr. Kieran Stanley, the lead author of the study, said. “The magnitude of the C02-equivalent emissions shows just how potent this greenhouse gas is.” 

Scientists did not attempt to identify the source of the emissions in their research, but the Environmental Investigation Agency says China is likely to have played a big role since it holds 68 percent of the capacity for the production of the refrigerant HCFC-22. The gas is being phased out under a treaty called the Montreal Protocol.

Published on Jan 21, 2020