European chemical manufacturers are covertly venting huge quantities of the powerful ‘super greenhouse gas’ HFC-23, according to a study by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA). The report, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, says that Western Europe’s emissions of HFC-23s – an ‘F’ or fluorinated gas mainly used as a refrigerant – are between 60-140% higher than officially reported.

Italy alone was found to be emitting 10-20 times more HFC-23s than it officially reports. The greenhouse gas has a global warming potential which is 14,800 times higher than CO2. The UK and the Netherlands also emitted around twice as much as they claimed, although the figures for France and Germany were “within the reported values”. There is no legal obligation on companies to reduce their HFC-23 waste gas emissions, but signatory states to the Kyoto Protocol must report their venting of the substance to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The pollutant analysis by EMPA was conducted at its Jungfraujoch research station using a ‘MEDUSA’ special gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, which enabled more than 50 halogenated greenhouse gases to be evaluated and emission sources to be identified. In January, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced that carbon credits gained from destroying HFC-23s would no longer be tradable under the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Denmark is currently calling on EU member states to ban the use of HFC-23 offsets in meeting national greenhouse gas reduction targets in the non-traded sectors. According to a recent report published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA), in the EU CO2 emissions dropped by 3% to 7.5 tonnes per capita. Between 2009 and 2010, emissions of the EU-27 increased by 2.4%.