Yet another threat at the door

news · 8 years ago
by Krisztián Niesz

What is common between Navin Flourine (an Indian chemical company), the Arctic Ocean and the microbes found near Toolik Lake, Alaska? Well, for one they all produce greenhouse gases, one way or another. While in the latter two cases nature is taking its course, in the first a company from a developing country manufacturing refrigerant HCFC-22 (chlorodifluoromethane, or Freon 22) now has to face the effect of a questionable decision made by humans to stop accepting credits for the synthesis byproduct, HFC-23 (trifluoromethane or Freon 23), which in itself has 14,800 times higher greenhouse gas effect than CO2.[1] In the worst case scenario, feared by many, the companies in question can refuse to add the extra cost and hassle, even if minimal, accompanying the destruction of HFC-23 into their processes if they don’t get anything in return. This would mean the injection of another 2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere by 2020, which is 6%(!) of the global annual CO2 emission. On a side, China has time until 2030 to completely stop producing HCFC-22.

But what is this carbon credit trading that causes the trouble? Based on the Kyoto protocol[2] (1997) registered refrigerant producers with facilities in developing countries, such as China or India receive carbon credits for destroying refrigerants like HFC-23 which in turn can be traded for money in international carbon markets. The buyers, also manufacturers, can then use the carbon credit to offset emissions at western production facilities.

But how much are we talking about? Well hundreds of millions of credits were issued only to Chinese and Indian installations, each of which could worth $20 on average (reference!). So, we are talking about a lot of money, billions of dollars. But is there any amount of money worth causing another greenhouse threat (like we don’t have enough problems with that already)? Not to me, but I’ll leave it to you because it is not as simple as that, and we can’t blame only the companies in the developing countries for the current situation, although it seems that they got a little greedy over time. We should not forget that the industrial activity started more than 150 years ago in the now developed countries, and mainly they are the ones responsible for the current high levels of the greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere.

Human initiated injection of GHG into the atmosphere is undoubtedly causing global warming, even if we close our eyes to the carbon credit crisis, and what’s even worse is that the elevated temperature further amplifies the emission of GHG. Like a roundabout, but without exit. For instance melting the permafrost across Siberia would cause the emission of billions of tons of methane from frozen ground via microbial respiration, and CH4 is more than 70 times more efficient in trapping IR than CO2.[3] Furthermore, methane is also present in high concentration in the cracks of sea ice over the vast Arctic Ocean, which we know is extremely vulnerable against the rapidly increasing temperature.[4]

Although as it seems now not much we can do against the nature driven processes except trying to adapt and searching for efficient ways to trap these greenhouse gases or maybe even to harvest energies from them (recently demonstrated by researchers from The Netherlands [5]), we for sure don’t need this other greenhouse bomb at our door placed there by human greediness and hasty actions!


  3. PNAS, 2013, 110, 3429-3434
  4. Nature Geoscience, 2012, 5, 318-321
  5. Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., Article ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/ez4000059