latest on greenhouse gases

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Posted by Lilly from ( on Friday, October 18, 2002 at 10:20AM :

for all anyone who is interested in a greener future...
Nature 419, 656 (17 October 2002)

Greenhouse gas that preserves ozone puts protocols at odds


[MUNICH] A head-on collision between efforts to combat climate change and those aimed at protecting the ozone layer is on the cards when delegates from 146 nations meet in New Delhi next week to discuss greenhouse-gas emissions.

At issue are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), introduced to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, the international agreement on protecting the ozone layer. But the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, warns against using HFCs, as they have a global-warming potential 1,300 times that of carbon dioxide.

HFCs, which are used in applications such as air-conditioning systems, currently account for less than 2% of global greenhouse-gas emissions. But according to a study published in June by the Brussels-based Climate Action Network Europe (CAN Europe), growing markets for HFCs in developing countries are likely to lead to a tenfold increase in HFC emissions by 2050. "There is a glaring contradiction between the two initiatives," says Jason Anderson, an energy-technology expert at CAN Europe.

At the New Delhi meeting, which starts on 23 October and is intended to discuss the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, delegates may ask technical advisers to the two treaties to carry out a joint study of other CFC replacements. Hydrocarbon alternatives, such as isobutane and pentane, are already used in Europe and by a growing number of manufacturers in Japan and China.

But US industry uses HFCs — which, unlike the hydrocarbon alternatives, are not flammable. Developing countries also pose problems. They receive annual subsidies worth US$150 million under the Montreal Protocol to convert their industries to ozone-friendly technologies. In most cases, this is used for the relatively cheap switch to HFCs. Opting for a technology tends to cement its use for many years, says Stephan Sicars, a member of the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel of the Montreal Protocol.

The CAN study criticizes this switch. "Using subsidies to switch to HFCs is a lost opportunity," says Anderson. "It also makes developing countries vulnerable to future greenhouse-gas-reduction requirements." Like many experts, he believes the lack of explicit links between the two protocols lies at the heart of the problem. "The technical study can help open people's eyes," he says. "But without a firm policy commitment, it won't solve the principal dilemma."

Nature Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2002 Registered No. 785998 England.

-- Lilly
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