The world’s quest to reduce an extremely potent greenhouse gas isn’t going as well as we thought it was, according to a new study. HFC-23, known as fluoroform, is a greenhouse gas that has 12,000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide does.
Findings, published in Nature Communications on Tuesday, show that emissions from India and China have spiked since 2014 despite pledges by both countries to get emissions down to zero. HFC-23 emissions reached a new peak in 2018. In short, this is very bad news.
HFC-23 is used in refrigerators and air conditioners. They were designed to replace chlorofluorocarbons, refrigerants that had major ozone-depleting properties, but turns out they’re making global warming worse. They’ve since been phased out under the Kigali Amendment, an international treaty that went into effect last year (without the U.S. of course), but individual countries have been working to phase them out in other ways. That includes India and China, the two biggest producers of HFC-23. China reported a rapid drop in emissions from 2014 to 2017 while India called for producers to incinerate the gas rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere.
But look, you can take a country’s word—or you can fact check that shit and find out if these fools are lying. That’s what the international team of researchers on the new study did. Because HFC-23 and other gases get mixed in the atmosphere, the scientists looked at measurements from five stations around the world that monitor greenhouse gases.
They found that rather than the expected 87 percent drop in emissions, HFC-23 reached new heights in 2018. The extra emissions from 2014 to 2017 are roughly equivalent to all of Spain’s 2017 greenhouse gas emissions. The researchers hypothesize that this is largely due to China not meeting its HFC targets and emissions remaining unreported. As we’ve seen with methane here in the U.S., we don’t always realize where these emissions come from until, well, we do.
If China did actually reduce its emissions, then other developed countries would’ve had to increase their emissions by 780 percent between 2015 and 2017, a pretty drastic jump in a small timeframe for countries that are struggling. If India’s to blame, it would’ve had to ramp up its emissions by 690 percent in these years.
“This potent greenhouse gas has been growing rapidly in the atmosphere for decades now, and these reports suggested that the rise should have almost completely stopped in the space of two or three years,” said co-author Matt Rigby, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Bristol and member of the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment, in a statement. “This would have been a big win for climate.”
The findings come the same week that another study shows emissions of HFC-23 and other refrigerants are responsible for half the warming and melting in the Arctic. The region will be in for an even ruder awakening with this greenhouse gas is actually increasing and not decreasing, as scientists had expected.
Further research will be needed to figure out where the discrepancy between reported emissions and atmospheric observations lies. What is clear is that we have a lot more work to do to cut emissions. The world needs to stop all greenhouse gas emissions if we’re going to successfully address the climate crisis.