07 Nov 2018 Story Climate change

Pakistan customs seize massive smuggled shipment of ozone-depleting gas

Pakistani customs officers trained by UN Environment are responsible for a massive seizure of R-22 (also known as HCFC-22) refrigerant, a powerful ozone-depleting substance and greenhouse gas.

In the largest seizure of its kind for Pakistan, customs authorities confiscated 18,000 kilogrammes of the smuggled refrigerant at Karachi Port in mid-October. The bust came when a customs appraisement officer, Rahmatullah Vistro, received information that an attempt would be made to illegally import huge quantities of the gas. Vistro is one of a number of customs officers around the world who have received UN Environment training to identify ozone-depleting substances smuggled by misdeclaration and mislabeling, among other methods.

Countries around the world are phasing out hydrochlorofluorocarbons like R-22 under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that protects the ozone layer. According to the latest Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, actions taken under the Montreal Protocol are resulting in steady, long-term decreases in the atmospheric abundance of controlled ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) and the ongoing recovery of stratospheric ozone at a rate of 1 to 3 per cent per decade since 2000.

Still widely used in air conditioners and refrigerators, R-22’s massive destructive impacts on the ozone layer are compounded by its huge global warming potential – over 1,800 times that of carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas emissions from this one shipment would have been equivalent to burning over 132,000,000 kilogrammes of coal.

The business responsible for the shipment, M/s Cool Corporation, claimed to be importing R-32 gas (also known as HFC-32), but customs agent Asim Awan noticed that the container was not classified for R-32. The tank was pasted with large stickers declaring its contents as R-32 and flammable, which R-22 is not.

“Custom’s vigilance was critical to this important seizure,” said Shaofeng Hu, Regional Coordinator for the Montreal Protocol in Asia and the Pacific. “The original shipment had been identified as flammable and initial appraisers were unable to check the material because of that fact.”

After Awan raised the alarm, agents scanned the container and found the temperature and pressure readings on the tank also didn’t correspond to R-32 refrigerant. Authorities then tested a sample, which confirmed the presence of R-22.

Illegal trade in ozone depleting substances is worth almost US$70 million according to 2012 estimates. Despite the devastating impact that they have on the planet, demand is still high in some places where alternatives are too expensive or don’t work as well at extremely high temperatures. In Pakistan as in all other countries signatories to the Montreal Protocol, there are quotas for R-22, while alternatives like R-32 are freely importable.

“The ozone layer has been healing thanks to the Montreal Protocol, strict regulations against ozone-depleting substances like R-22 and strong enforcement,” said Dechen Tsering, UN Environment’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “It’s vital we stay vigilant. All credit to Pakistan’s customs and the National Ozone Unit in the Ministry of Climate Change, for taking action to prevent this destructive shipment from getting to its intended destination.”

Pakistani customs have now confiscated the tank and authorities are preparing to take further necessary actions.