The ozone layer, the “umbrella” for life on Earth, is vital to the survival and reproduction of living organisms on Earth as it aborbs most of the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun that are detrimental to human health and shields us from harmful shortwave UV rays. In order to protect the relatively fragile ozone layer against the adverse effects of human activities, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (hereinafter referred to as the “Montreal Protocol”) was adopted in 1987 and entered into force on January 1, 1989. Now the protocol has been in force for more than 30 years. As of October 2023, 198 parties have ratified the protocol.
Recently, the 35th Meeting of the Parties (MOP35) to the Montreal Protocol convened in Nairobi, Kenya, where 27 decisions were adopted by the parties. In a historic decision, the parties endorsed a replenishment of the Multilateral Fund (MLF) for the triennium 2024-2026 at nearly US$ 1 billion, the largest ever replenishment for MLF, to support implementation of the Protocol in developing countries.
Nevertheless, despite the close-knit cooperation among countries, certain Western environmental news outlets persist in shifting the focus onto China, baselessly speculating and accusing the country of “excessive trifluoromethane (HFC-23) emissions.” What truly lies behind these allegations? The answer remains consistent: even the most gorgeous rhetoric and untrue smears can never overshadow the authenticity of verifiable data.
Three Decades of Implementation: Phase-out of Five Major Categories of Ozone-Depleting Substances and Significant Emission Reductions
The Montreal Protocol is one of the most far-reaching international environmental conventions, and a model for joint global action to protect the environment of the Earth. Through collaborative endeavors among the parties and the global community, more than 99% of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) have been successfully phased out over the past three decades, and the ozone layer is expected to recover within 40 years.
In 1991, China acceded to the Montreal Protocol and accepted all the amendments under its framework. For more than 30 years, China has fulfilled its international obligations and met the compliance targets specified under the Protocol in a comprehensive manner. So far, China has completed the phase-out of five major categories of ODS for controlled use—Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Halons, carbon tetrachloride (CTC), methyl chloroform (TCA) and methyl bromide (MB). The country is currently working on phasing out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), the last category of ozone depleting substances in China. On an over 30-year drive, China has phased out roughly 628,000 tons of ODS, which represent over half of the contributions made by developing countries. This significant achievement has yielded substantial benefits in both protecting the ozone layer and mitigating climate change. The research further highlighted that from 1991 to 2020, China’s efforts in phasing out ODS are estimated to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an equivalent of 26 billion tons of carbon dioxide, an impressive feat in emission reduction. These achievements are made under China’s comprehensive efforts in carbon emission reduction across the board.
China has made continuous efforts to enhance its legal frameworks, regulations, and management systems while bolstering support for technological innovation within enterprises. The country has intensified its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms and engaged extensively in international collaborations. It has also established and improved its compliance mechanism while progressively implementing phase-out plans across sectors. A remarkable 30-years history of compliance has seen China gradually charting a path for compliance with the Protocol that aligns with the country’s reality. This journey has contributed China’s wisdom and solutions to global compliance efforts and generated invaluable experiences for international environmental cooperation. These are undeniable facts that cannot be erased by Western news agencies.
Following up Closely yet Condemning Groundlessly: The Intent to Smear by Certain Overseas Media
What is trifluoromethane (HFC-23)? Why is it receiving such attention from certain Western news agencies? If you examine the countries that have by-produced HFC-23, it’s not difficult to identify the intention. HFC-23 is a by-product in the process of producing difluorochloromethane (HCFC-22). According to the Protocol, HFC-23, the unwanted by-product, must be destroyed to the extent practicable and must not be emitted into the atmosphere. Reporting of the emission levels of HFC-23 is also mandated, making HFC-23 the only substance controlled by the Protocol in terms of emissions. Globally, 12 countries produce HFC-23 as a by-product, including China, the United States, Russia, India, France, Japan, Mexico, Argentina, among others, among which China’s production of HFC-23 accounts for over 85% of the global total. Consequently, any discussion about HFC-23 emissions unavoidably centers around China.
Certain Western news agencies claim that air samples collected near the Gosan Global Atmosphere Watch Regional Station on South Korea’s Jeju Island in 2022 showed higher concentrations of HFC-23, suspecting China as the source of pollution.
HFC-23 emission is a complex issue. As early as 2015, researchers such as Fang Xuekun, now a researcher at Zhejiang University, used observation data from South Korea and Japan to simulate emissions in Eastern China and globally. The study suggested that in the years before 2012 the model simulation results based on observation data agreed relatively well with HFC-23 emissions in Eastern China, yet the global HFC-23 emissions officially reported to UNFCCC Secretariat by developed countries, among others, were under-reported.
According to Fang Xuekun, “During the MOP35, the Scientific Assessment Panel (SAP) of the Montreal Protocol pointed out a change in global HFC-23 emissions and identified a decrease in the 2021 data in its assessment report. The Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) also noted in its assessment report that HFC-23 can be generated as a by-product during the manufacture of high-molecular-weight fluoropolymers and possibly in the degradation process of hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), the alternative for HFCs, and that due to the rapid growth of the semiconductor sector, the amount of HFC-23 used as an etching agent is also increasing year by year. The scientific and technical assessment reports and related decisions of the MOP35 to the Montreal Protocol explicitly indicated the complexity and scientific uncertainties surrounding the sources of HFC-23 emissions, underscoring the need for ongoing research.”
Certain Western news agencies also brought up the fact that some experts mentioned the uncertainty surrounding the quantities and sources of emissions that contribute to elevated concentrations of climate pollutants. The article cited a South Korean researcher familiar with air sampling and analysis at the Gosan station who declined to comment and requested anonymity because the data is still preliminary. In this context, is the article hyping “Is China Emitting a Climate Super Pollutant” in its headline simply assigning blame without thorough investigation?
China Introduces Regulation Policies to Enhance HFC-23 Emission Reduction
Shortly after MOP35 concluded and just before COP28 commenced, certain Western news outlets once again made a big fuss about the “data” that lacked accurate traceability analysis a year or two ago. Attention-grabbing content published at such a delicate time casts doubts on the underlying motives. However, one thing is certain. The Chinese government has been making persistent efforts in reducing HFC-23 emissions.
Professor Hu Jianxin of Peking University pointed out the problem of HFC-23 emission control as early as 2003. Hu participated in the project review of all China’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects. Hu said, “As a developing country, China, during the period of 2006-2019, helped its domestic HCFC-22 producers incinerate 43,500 tons of HFC-23 on the basis of the CDM projects, and incinerate 65,300 tons of HFC-23 on the basis of the country’s own funds, which equals to 1.57 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in total and is close to the average annual emission reduction target set for developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol from 2008 to 2012. This reduction has made a significant contribution to mitigating climate change.” He also revealed that “several domestic research institutes have cooperated in the past three years to carry out research on the sources of HFC-23 emissions and have achieved preliminary research results, which can provide a scientific basis for explaining the sources of such emissions.
Moreover, China has promptly introduced policies to manage HFC-23 emissions. In September 2021, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment issued a “Notice on Strengthening the Control of HFC-23 Emissions as By-Product”, which, in compliance with the Kigali Amendment’s new obligations, specifically stipulates that, from September 15, 2021, the by-product HFC-23 generated during the production of HCFC-22 or HFCs cannot be directly emitted into the atmosphere.
The Notice outlines various requirements, including strengthening primary responsibilities, encouraging technological upgrades by companies, and implementing regulatory responsibilities. The “Notice on Strengthening the Control of HFC-23 Emissions as By-Product” sets out clear measures for disposal and data reporting. It encourages enterprises to reduce the by-product rate of HFC-23 through technological innovation and upgrading, and to enhance resource utilization technologies that use HFC-23 as a feedstock, in order to provide better solutions for HFC-23 disposal. Furthermore, the Notice stipulates the compliance and regulatory responsibilities of ecological and environmental authorities at all levels and requires them to supervise and assist companies in implementing HFC-23 control, including taking legal measures, in conjunction with relevant departments, against enterprises that violate these regulations.
The Foreign Environmental Cooperation Center (FECO) of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) is the technical support unit for China’s implementation of the Protocol. According to the relevant person in charge of FECO, “Since the Kigali Amendment took effect in China, the Ministry has engaged third-party organizations to verify HFC-23 emissions from all enterprises each year and fulfilled data reporting obligations under the Protocol in a timely manner. Recognizing the unsustainability of incineration for HFC-23 disposal, China actively encourages enterprises to develop resource utilization technologies. These technologies are currently in the industrialization phase and are expected to offer a sustainable way for emissions reduction, benefiting both HCFC-22 producers in developing countries and those in developed countries. Moreover, the Ministry plans to release the Technical Specification for HFC-23 Emission Accounting and Reporting, so as to provide scientific data for the quantification of HFC-23 emissions.”
Having been in effect for over three decades, the Montreal Protocol, drawing strength from scientific and technological research, has established a practical approach to phase out ODS through rigorous global measures. It stands out as one of the world’s most successful environmental protection treaties. Today, amid various global risks and challenges, all parties to the Protocol should align with the prevailing trends, pursue shared development, foster unity, and uphold perseverance and patience. Only through such efforts can we pave the way for a future of peace, development, cooperation, and mutual prosperity for generations to come.
Source: China Environment News