Scientists probe suspicious rise in CFCs

Ozone-Depleting Chemical Is On The Rise Again But From An Unknown Source

That speculation is due to increased CFC-11 emissions, a big issue that could delay ozone restoration efforts and contribute to a warming planet. 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.

According to global CFC-11 levels measured by scientists at NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the concentration of the chemical declined at an accelerating rate till 2002, but then, the fall became stagnant for nearly a decade.

These could hamper the recovery of the ozone hole and worsen climate change. The toxic CFC-11 is completely banned across the globe.

They were also used as propellants in aerosol sprays and in solvents. But with rising emissions, scientists suspect that someone is making a chemical substance in spite of the ban.

Under the Montreal Protocol, the world agreed to begin phasing out CFC-11, ending its production altogether by 2010. As expected, CFC-11 levels have been declining since the chemical was banned and production phased out.

The regulations were initially reflected by the data, with the amounts detected in the atmosphere sinking at a constant rate between 2002 and 2012.

The situation got even worse in the years after 2012 when the rate of CFC decline slowed by 50 percent, which could have only been possible due to an increase in CFC emissions. The increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production; this suggests unreported new production, which is inconsistent with the Montreal Protocol agreement to phase out global CFC production by 2010. Some scientists speculate that the substance is likely being produced in East Asia.

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According to the report, published in Nature and led by Stephen Montzka of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the amount of CFC-11 had gradually been declining over time as countries stopped producing it and what remained in the atmosphere faded out, but its rate of decline sharply decreased over the past year.

The researchers are puzzled as to what the motivation for any unauthorised new production might be.

"It's disappointing, I would not have expected it to happen", said Michaela Hegglin from Reading University, who was not involved in the study. The report also points out that there are alternatives to CFC-11 which are easy to come by and safer to use, so there is no real-world reason to continue using it, making the case all the more perplexing.

"I hope that somehow the global community can put pressure on South East Asian countries, maybe China, to go and look at whether they can get more information on where the emissions come from".

"They're going to find the culprits". If not, it could possibly slow down the recovery of the ozone layer, especially since CFC-11 is responsible for about a quarter of all chlorine reaching the stratosphere.

Watson suggested that aircraft flights might be necessary to better identify the source of the emissions.

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