According to a new report published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, estimated emissions of nitrous oxide in China will triple by 2020 unless urgent measures to reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas are taken.

With global efforts to reduce CFCs yielding results, nitrous oxide (N2O) has become the most serious threat to the ozone layer. The bulk of N2O emissions comes from agriculture but it is also produced during the manufacture of nitric acid and adipic acid — components used in the making of fertilizers and nylon. Over the past few years China has increased its capacity for making these chemicals, turning the country into the world largest producer.

Jianhua Xu from Peking University, leader of the research group that made the projections, commented that while in most parts of the world, including Europe and North America, emissions of N2O have been falling, China has recorded a staggering increase in emissions. Between 1990 and 2012 N2O emissions in China rose by 37 times, reaching 174,000 tons a year. If current emission trends continue without any measures being implemented, by 2020 the figure will reach 561,000 tons — five times the annual emissions of the United States.

Xu explained that emissions could be reduced if regulation of the chemical industry improves and if manufacturers are required to install technologies that cut their emissions. If this happens, the amount of emissions saved would be equal to the reduction of all greenhouse gas emissions from Australia, he added.