Science

Mysterious rise in emissions of ozone-damaging chemical

Mysterious rise in emissions of ozone-damaging chemical

Banned chemicals which can cause holes in the ozone layer are on the rise, according to a new report, and no one knows who the culprit is.

Emissions of CFC-11 increased by 25 percent in 2012, despite the fact that the chemical substance is part of a group of pollutants for ozone, which were banned under the Montreal Protocol of 1987.

Officially, the production of CFC-11 should be near zero or nearly zero - at least, those are the countries that cooperate with the United Nations body that monitors and ensures compliance with the Montreal Protocol.

CFC-11 is also known as trichlorofluoromethane, and is one of a number of CFCs that were initially developed as refrigerants during the 1930s.

The USA ceased production in 1996 and other countries agreed to phase out CFC production by 2010.

If the source of these emissions can be identified and mitigated soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor.

This was partly because nations had all agreed to ban or phase out CFCs, which are short for "chlorofluorocarbons" but are simply called "ozone-depleting substances", due to an worldwide treaty back in the 1980s called the Montreal Protocol.

But they concluded these sources could not explain the increase, which they calculated at about 13 billion grams per year in recent years.

A figure displaying CFC production and emission trends

Precise measurements of global atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 made by NOAA and CIRES scientists at 12 remote sites around the globe show that CFC-11 concentrations declined at an accelerating rate prior to 2002 as expected.

A simple model analysis of our findings suggests an increase in CFC-11 emissions ... despite reported production being close to zero4 since 2006 ...

CFCs and other molecules have mainly eroded ozone in the upper stratosphere, and over the poles.

"It is therefore imperative that this finding be discussed at the next Ministerial meeting of Governments given recovery of the ozone layer is dependent on all countries complying with the Montreal Protocol (and its adjustments and amendments) with emissions globally dropping to zero". Use of the chemical was banned in 2010 via the Montreal Protocol, an global agreement made to protect the environment.

Unreported production of CFC-11 outside of certain specific carve-out purposes in the treaty would be a "violation of worldwide law", Weller confirmed, though he said that the Protocol is "non-punitive" and the remedy would probably involve a negotiation with the offending party, or country.

But in the last few years, it looks like someone has started cheating.

Overall, it is important to underscore that the ozone layer is slowly recovering and ozone-depleting substances are still declining. However, since 2012, this decline has slowed by around 50%. Some seeps out of foam and buildings and machines, but scientists say what they're seeing is much more than that.

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