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    China to Phase Out Production of Ozone-Depleting, Super-Warming Greenhouse Gas

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    Mat McDermott

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    Photo: zeevveez/Flickr

    Committing to mandatory carbon emission reductions may still be beyond the pale in China (or the US for that matter), but a new agreement shows that phasing out production of other potent greenhouse gases isn't. Under a new deal as part of the Montreal Protocol—the international agreement to eliminate gases responsible for creating hole in the ozone layer—China will receive funding up to $380 million to close all its plants producing hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) regulated under the Protocol by 2030.

    HCFCs have replaced CFCs in refrigeration, air conditioning, as well as being used in a variety of industrial productions. They don't deplete the ozone layer to nearly the degree as do CFCs but unfortunately result in the production of the super greenhouse gas HFC-23—which has nearly 15,000 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100 year time frame. HFC-23 can be easily destroyed during HCFC production, the Environmental Investigation Agency notes, but some Chinese plants simply vent HFC-23 into the air.

    UNEP reports that China is responsible for 92% of all HCFC production in developing nations. The phase out will mean the reduction of the equivalent of 8 billion metric tons of CO2 over the next decade and a half.  

    Though China will close and dismantle factories producing HCFCs for use in applications covered under the Montreal Protocol, not all uses are covered. However the agreement also states that China will ensure that any plants receiving money under the program to close down do not simply switch production to HCFCs for use in non-regulated applications. 

    What effect might this have on the climate? 

    First of all, considering China's dominant role in HCFC production in the developing world, it's clearly an important step to an all out ban on all HCFCs. 

    Second, recent research shows that while phasing out HCFCs and other comparatively short-lived climate pollutants is not alone enough to prevent future warming—that requires radical reductions in CO2–cutting back on this type of pollution will buy us critical time to prepare for the effects of warming and sea level rise. 

    Doing so before 2040 may reduce sea level rise experienced by 2100 by 30-50%, possibly reducing it from over 3' to 2'. Still damaging, but less so. An all out ban on HCFCs would, by 2050, reduce greenhouse gases by an equivalent of 88 billion metric tons of CO2. This would slow global warming by a decade.

    The Montreal Protocol is widely cited as being one of the most successful environmental treaties yet enacted. Since coming into force in 1989, it has managed to reduce production of 98% of ozone-depleting chemicals. 

    As result, in 2012 the ozone hole over the Antarctic was smaller than it had been in a decade. At the way it's going, this hole could return to pre-1980 levels by mid-century, and fully recover by 2073—which may be little comfort considering the amount of warming, ocean acidification, and sea level rise we are likely to be experiencing by that point, but thanks must be given for any major environmental victory these days. 

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