Billion Dollar Greehouse Gas Cutback in China: A Hidden Montreal Protocol Tradeoff

SciDev.net informs us in a 1 September story that "The biggest agreement so far to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a developing country was finalized this week (29 August) Under the deal, Asian and European companies will pay two Chinese chemical companies more than US$1 billion to reduce their emissions of one of the most potent gases involved in global warming. The World Bank's Umbrella Carbon Facility brokered the deal, which will reduce emissions of the gas — called HFC-23 — by an amount equivalent to 100 million tones of carbon dioxide. HFC-23 is used as a refrigerant. Molecule for molecule, it traps 11,700 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The money raised through the new deal will be put into a fund to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency in China". Sounds like a good thing right? Look below the fold for analysis.HFC-23 is indeed a "hydrofluorocarbon" involved with refrigerant manufacture; but, HFC-23 is definitely not a refrigerant in present commercial use. R-23 (a common synonym for HFC-23) has an extremely high heat exchange capacity that precludes it's practical use as a refrigerant gas because it freezes up at release points. What R-23 really is, is a direct byproduct of the manufacture of "R-22" a refrigerant being phased out worldwide, under terms of the Montreal Protocol. Per the story, R-22 continues to be made in China, albeit under a very lenient phase out schedule for developing economies. (Sidebar: How much longer does China get to slide by under the "developing nation" category?) Destruction of the R-23 byproduct from R-22 making is likely going to involve high temperature incineration with skads of natural gas burned to preclude its release. This makes for indirect greenhouse gas emissions in the way of C02. Hmmm. Maybe not as good as it sounded at first.

Questions abound. Why is this announced as progress?

We found a detailed explanation from a very recent Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) publication. Even if you are not a tecchy, a reading of this NGO produced pdf document (try searching it for "23") makes it quite obvious that there is a serious conflict between the Montreal Protocol and the objectives of Climate Change mitigation, regardless of whether it would be Kyoto- or common-sense based. The money quote from the EIA publication would be: "The European Community has banned the import of products that contain HCFC-22. The US, however, allows such imports and is currently being flooded with HCFC-22 products from China—between 5 and 6 million air conditioning units per year (each containing about 2.5 kilos of HCFCs)".

Businesses operating in the US with a "green bottom line" interest and an eye on our TreeHugger dollars may be selling window air conditioners charged with Chinese-made R-22. (You know who you are). One common alternative sold in the US is refrigerant 410a. R410A is manufactured and sold under various trade names, including GENETRON AZ20®, SUVA 410A®, and Puron®. Perhaps our commentors will point out more alternatives.

If you shop air conditioning in Europe, EU governance has been looking ahead at the intersection of Stratospheric Ozone depletion and Climate Change issues, letting you move on to how the refrigerator looks or how much the design will save on your energy bill.

We're wondering where Wal-Mart and GE, for example, stand on this question.

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