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China Improves Curb on Ozone-Damaging Gas, Though Gaps Remain

Jan. 6, 2020, 3:45 PM

China’s efforts to end illegal production of an ozone-shrinking substance were welcomed at a recent international meeting, despite a dearth of information about where in China the chemical is being released.

The Chinese government presented its response to major releases of trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11, from within its borders at a meeting of a small group of countries in Montreal last month. CFC-11 is one of the ozone-depleting substances banned by the Montreal Protocol.

Some of the countries at the meeting, known as the executive committee of the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, said they appreciated China’s actions, but also said the unexpected emissions of CFC-11 were a serious problem, a meeting summary said. The summary didn’t identify the countries.

China came under pressure to explain its actions at the last two meetings and will have to submit a final report on its response to the leaks in December 2020, the summary said.

The State Department, which lead a delegation to the Montreal meeting, declined to provide a specific comment on China’s action, but an official said the U.S. is very concerned about the unexpected uptick in CFC-11 emissions.

“The United States supports strong action by the Montreal Protocol parties and its institutions to address the unexpected emissions of CFC-11,” the official, who commented on background, said in an email Jan. 3.

Large Releases From China

Experts estimate 40,000 to 70,000 metric tons of CFC-11 per year are released from China, Avipsa Mahapatra, climate campaign lead for the Environmental Investigation Agency, who attended the meeting as an observer, said in an interview. The Washington-based Environmental Investigation Agency was one of the first independent groups to pinpoint releases of CFC-11 from China in 2018.

CFC-11 was used as a blowing agent during the production of polyurethane foam insulation. Alternatives that are safe for the ozone layer can replace it.

China shut down three polyurethane foam factories in response to the leaks, but those three can’t account for the amount experts say is coming out of China, Mahapatra said.

The most recent meeting saw a consensus emerge that China was taking appropriate action on CFC-11, but pressure on China should remain in place as long as the missing CFC-11 isn’t accounted for, she said.

The Chinese government recently launched a bidding process for a third party to do a review of the underlying regulatory, policy, enforcement, and market forces that lead to illegal CFC-11 production, the meeting summary said.

That report is critical because it will help regulators understand why a substance banned in China since 2010 flew under the radar, and could help prevent illegal foam production globally, Mahapatra said.

Swift Action to Close Ozone Hole

If countries act swiftly, a delay in the closing of the ozone hole over Antarctica due to the unexpected recent spike in CFC-11 emissions will last only a few years, but inaction could stretch the delay to well over a decade, a University of Leeds study published in Nature Communications Dec. 19 found.

The U.S. has been leading pressure on China to stop the CFC-11 releases because it is the leading donor into the Montreal Protocol’s multilateral fund, which helps developing countries, including China, manage the terms of the protocol, according to Mahapatra.

China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment took over a dozen enforcement and monitoring steps to improve adherence to the protocol, including the creation of eight new laboratories to test chemicals, the meeting summary said.

Domestic atmospheric monitoring of ozone-harming substances will be in place by 2022, and the results will be shared internationally.

Studies to find out the size of the polyurethane foam sector haven’t started because talks with industry are still taking place, China told the meeting.

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment didn’t respond to a request for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Munson in Toronto at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com

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