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UN Reviewing New Chemicals For Inclusion In Kyoto Successor

March 31, 2009

U.N. delegates discussed on Tuesday targeting several new industrial chemicals for inclusion in a climate treaty to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. 

Scientists caution that these new synthetic compounds are powerful greenhouse gases that in large quantities could contribute substantially to global warming. 

“In terms of the impact these new gases will have over the next decade, it is not that significant,” said Steve Sawyer, executive director of the industry lobbying group Global Wind Energy Council.

“What is important is the political message it sends to the chemical industry: ‘stop inventing gases with a high global warming potential’,” he said during an interview with the AFP.

Although most of the compounds are not broadly used, at least one, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), is a component commonly used in making PCs and LCD flat-screen televisions.  It is roughly 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Annual world production of NF3 is now projected to reach 8,000 tons by 2010, the equivalent of 130 million tons of CO2, according to a study published last year in Geophysical Research Letters.

Michael Prather of the University of California at Irvine, who led the research, called the chemical the “missing greenhouse gas.”

Paradoxically, NF3 was developed to replace perfluorocarbons (PFCs), another family of chemicals covered by the Kyoto Protocol.

Under the Kyoto treaty, 37 industrialized nations committed to reduce their emissions by five percent from 1990 levels, by 2012. 

The U.S. did not sign on to the treaty.

In addition to CO2 and PFCs, Kyoto includes four other man-made gases that warm the atmosphere: nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

More than 190 nations are taking part in the U.N. Convention Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is tasked with drafting a Kyoto successor pact by the end of the year.  Debate began today in Bonn on whether to include the new group of chemicals.

“This tells the chemical industry it should find substitutes or be sure these gases don’t escape” into the atmosphere, said  France’s chief climate negotiator, Brice Lalonde.

The world must act now, before these chemicals are integrated into industrial infrastructure, he told the AFP.

“We are talking about less than one percent of all greenhouse gases, but the principle here is to keep them under control,” an AFP report quoted Jose Romero, a climate negotiator from Switzerland, as saying.

The AFP report said all the U.N. delegates that were interviewed believed the new basket of chemicals would ultimately be included in a new climate treaty.

“I think we will be able to find a solution that is fair and effective,” one U.S.-based foreign affairs expert told the AFP.

The U.S. was still developing a position on the matter, he said.

“The most important thing is CO2, and you would not want to distract from that. But we want to make sure they do not grow to become an even larger component of the greenhouse gas picture.”

The new chemicals under consideration include new types of PFCs and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), (SF5CF3), trifluoromethyl sulphur pentafluoride fluorinated ethers, perfluoropolyethers and hydrocarbons.

Other compounds include methyl chloroform (CH3CCl3), dimethylether (CH3OCH3), methylene chloride (CH2Cl2), methyl chloride (CH3Cl), dibromomethane (CH2Br2), bromodifluoromethane (CHBrF2) and trifluoroiodomethane (CF3I).

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