The international journal of science Nature released an alarming report yesterday. Entitled “An unexpected and persistent increase in global emissions of ozone-depleting CFC-11”, the paper revealed that the banned ozone-destroying substance chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) has been on the rise in the last few years.
Trichlorofluoromethane or CFC-11 was effectively phased out since the introduction of the 1987 international agreement the Montreal Protocol and scientists had reported the ozone layer was on the mend. The substance was previously widely used as a foaming agent and is considered to be the main chemical responsible for the giant hole in the ozone layer in Antarctica discovered in the 1980s.
Up to now, it was commonly believed that since 2007 there was no production of CFC-11. This is why scientists were so shocked to discover a rise in levels of the world’s second most damaging chemical.
An alarming discovery
The discovery was made by Stephen Montzka and several colleagues at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado. "We're raising a flag to the global community to say, 'This is what's going on, and it is taking us away from timely recovery from ozone depletion,'" Montzka told Science Daily.
The United Nations (UN) were quick to react to the disturbing news. UN Environment released a statement just a few hours after the report was published reiterating the importance of the Montreal Protocol and the need to abide by it.
“If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer, it is therefore, critical that we take stock of this science, identify the causes of these emissions and take necessary action,”
“If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer, it is, therefore, critical that we take stock of this science, identify the causes of these emissions and take necessary action,” said the statement.
The statement also made note of the efficacy of the Montreal Protocol's institutions and mechanisms in remaining vigilant to environmental threats and combatting the introduction of ozone-depleting substances. "So long as scientists remain vigilant, new production or emission of ozone-depleting chemicals will not go unnoticed," said the statement.
Although the source of the rise has not yet been determined, the study did state that "the increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production" which would suggest "unreported new production."
The paper features Montzka as a lead author but is also supported by members of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the UK, and the Netherlands.
A steady decrease halted
The study saw NOAA and CIRES scientists take measurements of global atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11 in 12 remote sites around the world. The measurements revealed steady declines of the dangerous substance prior to 2002, in line with the international ban.
However, after that period the rate of decrease stopped accelerating and was even reduced by 50% post-2012. Montzka and his colleagues logically deducted that CFC emissions must have increased after that year.
The findings have been confirmed by other data produced by NOAA that even submitted evidence that the new source of CFCs may be located north of the equator. However, data from Hawaii stipulates the source may be in eastern Asia. Montzka said more work needs to be done to determine the correct location.