There's been a mysterious rise in ozone-destroying emissions

Banned Ozone-Harming Gas Creeps Back, Suggesting a Mystery Source

"We show that the rate of decline of atmospheric CFC-11 was constant from 2002 to 2012, and then slowed by about 50 percent after 2012", an worldwide team of scientists concluded in a study. CFC-11 was once commonly used in insulating foams, but it's now banned under the Montreal Protocol and reported production is close to zero. A USA observatory in Hawaii found CFC-11 mixed in with other gases that were characteristic of a source coming from somewhere in eastern Asia, but scientists could not narrow the area down any further.

Today, the "hole in the ozone" over the South Pole is showing clear signs of recovery. When the researchers examined measurements from atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii, they found that other industrial emissions are also increasing. Though concentrations of CFC11 in the atmosphere are still declining, they're declining more slowly than they would if there were no new sources, Montzka said.

Given that the boost in output will inevitably slow the planet's ozone layer recovery, discovering the source of the new production would seem an urgent priority.

However, a study recently published in Nature reveals that CFC-11 production may be happening somewhere in the world despite the Montreal Protocol.

That has led scientists to predict that by mid- to late-century, the abundance of ozone-depleting gases would to fall to levels last seen before the Antarctic ozone hole began to appear in the early 1980s. However, since 2012, this decline has slowed by around 50%.

At first, the researchers hypothesised that the sudden hike in CFC-11 might be due to the destruction of old buildings containing CFC-11 refrigerants. Some scientists speculate that the substance is likely being produced in East Asia.

"These considerations suggest that the increased CFC-11 emissions arise from new production not reported to [the U.N. Environment Program's] Ozone Secretariat, which is inconsistent with the agreed phase-out of CFC production in the Montreal Protocol by 2010", the researchers wrote.

"We are making the measurements from very far away from these regions and I think more specificity is going to come once the people.in that region.look carefully at their measurements and publish their results", he added.

The Montreal Protocol, which was finalised in 1987, was a revolutionary, worldwide agreement to phase out the production of CFCs, kind of like the modern day Paris accord.

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"We don't know why they might be doing that and if it is being made for some specific goal, or inadvertently as a side product of some other chemical process".

There is a small chance that there is a more innocent explanation for the rise in CFC-11 emissions, the scientists say.

"I hope that somehow the worldwide community can put pressure on South East Asian countries, maybe China, to go and look at whether they can get more information on where the emissions come from".

"They're going to find the culprits", Zaelke said.

The researchers said that the less rapid decline of CFC-11 could prevent ozone from returning to normal levels, or at least as quickly as hoped.

However, if no action is taken on the new source of emissions, it could be highly significant.

If the source of these emissions can be identified and mitigated soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor.

The chemical is also a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

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