How China is affecting global consensus on climate action

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Published: May 27, 2019 1:43:40 AM

Violation of the Montreal Protocol by China portends ill for global consensus on climate action.

The latest analysis, of samples from South Korea and Japan, found that more than half of the spike in CFC-11 emissions, beginning around 2013, can be pinned to two Chinese provinces—Shandong and Hebei, as per a report in Nature.

Sleuthing scientists now lay the blame for an unexpected spike in atmospheric concentration of tricholorofluoromethane, or CFC 11, at China’s door. CFC-11, which was used in the manufacture of spray foam insulation before it was banned under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, is largely to blame for the hole in the ozone layer in the stratosphere over Southern Hemisphere. Its production was phased out since 2010 under the Protocol, a global treaty to protect the ozone layer. New CFC-11 emissions were reported in May 2018, seemingly originating from East Asia, after analysis of air samples from the monitoring stations in Hawaii. The latest analysis, of samples from South Korea and Japan, found that more than half of the spike in CFC-11 emissions, beginning around 2013, can be pinned to two Chinese provinces—Shandong and Hebei, as per a report in Nature.

When the rate of decline in atmospheric CFC-11 dropped in 2013—the concentration was falling by 0.8% per year till 2012—it sparked global concern. The unexpected break in falling of CFC-11 levels, scientists surmised, could only be explained by a new source of emission. The problem is actually worse than it looks because, if China is manufacturing spray foam, it is a long-term disaster since the CFC is largely trapped in the foam and gets released slowly over the years. There are immense geopolitical consequences of the Chinese violation, though the government insists it is cracking down on illegal production. Given countries have worked so far on bringing down CFC levels under the Protocol working largely on mutual trust, China’s breach is not likely to go down lightly with other countries.

The US, led by a climate-sceptic president, could see the violation as the perfect precedent for walking away from global climate agreements, damaging the global consensus on climate action further (it has already walked out of the Paris climate agreement).

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