Emissions of CFCs from certain older applications still in use may be larger than previously thought, finds a study recently published in Nature Communications. These emissions could delay the recovery of the Antarctic ozone hole and contribute the equivalent of 9 billion metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Most states have agreed to stop the use of CFCs in production as defined by the Montreal Protocol. However, emissions from products already in use (CFC banks) continue. These include some refrigerators, air conditioning units, and insulation foam. The recent unexpected rise in R-11 emissions highlights the need to quantify emissions from these banks in order to accurately assess the scale of emissions from renewed production.

The authors use a new statistical framework to assess the size of CFC banks and their corresponding emissions of R-11, R-12 and R-113. They show that these are substantially larger than previous assessments have indicated and account for a large proportion of the current estimated emissions of R-11 and 12 (with the exception of increased R-11 emissions after 2012 owing to renewed production). The use of R-113 is still permitted in some applications under the Montreal Protocol, but the level of emissions reported here exceeds that of previous studies, raising questions about their sources. The authors estimate that emissions from current banks could delay the recovery of the ozone hole by up to six years and contribute the equivalent of about 9 billion metric tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. The authors concluded that this finding highlights the need to recover and destroy CFC banks to reduce emissions.

Responding to this new study, Avipsa Mahapatra, climate campaign lead at Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said, “Despite the success of Montreal Protocol in phasing out the production and consumption of ozone-damaging refrigerants, a significant amount of these gases are still found in banks of refrigeration equipment and insulation foams and are leaking out into the atmosphere, contributing to ozone depletion and climate change. This paper quantifies that we already lost the opportunity to prevent 25 billion metric tons CO2e by not destroying CFC banks beginning in the year 2000. It would be unconscionable to repeat this mistake at a time our planet can ill afford. The climate crisis we are in today demands urgent global action ensuring that we search, reuse and destroy any of these potent gases before they leak into our atmosphere.”

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