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Refrigerant racket

Science | Factories in China and India find ways to cheat a UN program on greenhouse gases

Issue: "Syria's pain," Sept. 8, 2012

The United Nations is tightening rules on a costly program to reduce greenhouse gases through the buying and selling of carbon credits. Since 2006, the Clean Development Mechanism has encouraged businesses in less developed countries to sell credits for each metric ton of greenhouse gas (such as carbon dioxide and methane) they prevent from escaping into the atmosphere. The companies that buy the credits can then emit more greenhouse gases.

Since more potent greenhouse gases are worth more credits, 19 factories (mostly Chinese and Indian) that make refrigerator and air-conditioning coolants have focused on destroying HFC-23, a "super" greenhouse gas generated as a byproduct of the coolant manufacturing process. It's 11,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Critics, including the Environmental Investigation Agency and The New York Times, discovered that factories in China and India have earned tens of millions of dollars from the program. Worse, they have increased production of greenhouse gas chemicals in order to sell more credits to the West.

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By cheaply destroying HFC-23 and selling credits for doing so, the coolant factories have made a killing-probably $20 million to $40 million a year on average, according to one analyst. In some cases the factories made more money selling credits than they did selling coolant, and even increased coolant production in order to generate-and then eliminate-more HFC-23 waste gas.

That defeats the purpose of the UN program, because the coolant is also a greenhouse gas that destroys ozone. Parties to the UN are supposed to be phasing the coolant out. Instead, the UN's emission-credit scheme encouraged its production, with nearly half of the program's total credits generated by the same 19 coolant plants.

The main buyers of the credits are plants and factories in developed nations that are attempting to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals set by the Kyoto Protocol. (The United States is not a ratified member of that treaty.)

Next year the EU will ban HFC-23 from its own carbon trading market. The UN is barring new factories from selling waste gas credits, and will reduce the amount existing factories can sell by two-thirds. Even so, the Times reported the 19 coolant factories could make another $1 billion in credit sales over the next eight years.

Abortion with a T

Mirena

According to a new study in Fertility and Sterility, more American women are choosing to use intrauterine devices for contraception. The study found that the proportion of women using IUDs doubled between 2007 and 2009, rising to 8.5 percent from about 4 percent. The small, T-shaped devices, which a doctor inserts into the uterus, use copper or hormones to interfere with sperm and prevent implantation of a fertilized egg on the uterine wall-qualifying them as abortifacients. - Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine
Daniel James Devine

Daniel is a reporter for WORLD who covers science, technology, and other topics in the Midwest from his home base in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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