Official EU HFC-23 figures misleading

15th September 2011


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The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) has questioned the accuracy of EU emissions of the highly potent greenhouse gas (GHG), trifluoromethane (HFC-23)

EMPA's research, which is published in Geophysical Research Letters, claims that EU emissions of HFC-23 are much higher than those recorded in member states’ GHG inventories and reported to the UNFCCC.

According to the study emissions of HFC-23 between July 2008 and July 2010 were 60–140% higher than the official figures in national reports in 2009.

The largest discrepancy was for Italy, where the researchers estimate emissions of 26–56 megagrams per year (Mg/yr), compared with the national inventory total of 2.6Mg/yr. However, the Netherlands and the UK also underestimated their HFC-23 emissions.

EMPA reports that UK HFC-23 emissions over the two-year period were 12–21Mg/yr, while the official figure for 2009 was 5.5Mg/yr. The researchers say the disparities place a question mark against the validity of the HFC-23 inventories and emissions reported under the Kyoto Protocol.

Trifluoromethane is one of the most harmful known GHGs, with a global warming potential almost 15,000 times greater than carbon dioxide.

Apart from minor uses in air conditioners and fire extinguishers, HFC‐23 emissions are primarily from the manufacture of chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC‐22), commonly used as a cooling and foaming agent, and in polymer production.

By using atmospheric transportation simulations, the EMPA researchers were able to locate accurately the point source of the emissions. They found, for example, that the HFC-23 polluted air masses recorded at a monitoring site in the Swiss Alps, originated almost exclusively from Italy’s sole HCFC-22 factory, the Solvay Solexis plant near Milan.

“Given the vast profits made by the European fluorochemical industry, it is absolutely scandalous that they are not destroying all HFC-23 produced by their factories,” commented Clare Perry, senior campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency.

She called on the European Commission to include mandatory 100% destruction in its revision of the 2006 F-Gas Regulation (842/2006), which is planned for later this year.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, signatory countries are required to report their venting of HFC-23, although there is no obligation on them to reduce discharges.

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