Researchers at the University of Toronto discovered a greenhouse gas that contributes more to climate change than any other compound, and "it is not being regulated by any type of climate policy.”
Researchers say the long lifespan of the compound perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) means it has 7,100 times the effect of carbon dioxide on global warming.
“PFTBA is extremely long-lived in the atmosphere and it has a very high radiative efficiency. The result of this is a very high global warming potential. Calculated over a 100-year timeframe, a single molecule of PFTBA has the equivalent climate impact as 7,100 molecules of CO2,” study co-author Angela Hong said in a release.
The manmade chemical has been in use since the 20th century. While scientists found only small amounts of PFTBA, it can stay in the atmosphere for about 500 years.
"This is a warning to us that this gas could have a very, very large impact on climate change – if there were a lot of it. Since there is not a lot of it now, we don't have to worry about it at present, but we have to make sure it doesn't grow and become a very large contributor to global warming," Dr. Drew Shindell, a climatologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the Guardian.
In the Toronto area, PFTBA in the environment was 0.18 parts per trillion, compared to 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide.
"It is so much less than carbon dioxide, but the important thing is on a per molecule basis, it is very very effective in interacting with heat from the Earth," Hong said. "Individually each molecule is able to affect the climate potentially and because its lifetime is so long it also has a long-lasting effect."
"We claim that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere to date," Hong added.
Other unregulated industrial chemicals could have a similar impact on the environment.
"PFTBA is just one example of an industrial chemical that is produced, but there are no policies that control its production, use or emission," Hong said. "It is not being regulated by any type of climate policy."