China Breaching International Ozone Treaty

3-D image of the hole in the ozone layer high above Antarctica    Photo: NASA

According to a study recently published in the journal Nature, scientists have traced a recent spike in emissions of an ozone-destroying gas to plants northeast China, where they suspect the chemical is being produced and used in violation of the international treaty called the  Montreal Protocol that protects the Earth’s ozone layer.  The emissions increases can be traced back to 2013, but they were only detected last year and scientists have been trying to find the source since then.  A bi-partisan group of Senators wrote the Secretary of State today urging him to hold the Chinese accountable for this violation.

Why This Matters: The Montreal Protocol has been a bright spot when it comes to dealing with global environmental crises.  The Protocol has worked well and recently scientists reported that the ozone hole is closing.  Fortunately, this increase in emissions was caught in time to prevent any expanding of the hole — scientists say it continues to recover.  But the U.S. and other nations will need to exert pressure on the Chinese government to find the culprits factories and make them stop.  And this issue can only exacerbate the current challenges facing the U.S. government when it comes to China.  

The chemical in question has been banned for nearly a decade.

Once the Illegally made insulation is installed in buildings, it will give off CFC-11 for years.

  • Much of the illicit CFC-11 is trapped in the foam and leaks out slowly over time, according to Stephen Montzka, who is a NOAA chemist who co-authored the latest study and led the work that uncovered the existence of the mysterious CFC-11 emissions.
  • Not much is known about how the chemical is being used in northeast China — nor have researchers pinned down the origin of some 4000 other tons of remaining rogue emissions.

The Senators want to know if the State Department will commit to working with the international community to pursue tools provided by the Montreal Protocol to ensure China and other countries stay in compliance with the treaty, and wants to know what further the actions the State Department intends to take to hold the Chinese accountable for the violations.

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