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A Week of Climate Action on HFCs and Cooling

By Christina Starr, EIA Climate Policy Analyst

HFCs used in cooling were a hot topic at the Global Climate Action Summit last week in San Francisco. With momentum building for subnational actors like cities, states, and businesses to drive action forward on climate, we have the opportunity to tackle the issue of how we keep cool without warming the planet - by phasing down superpollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and identifying new approaches to maximize energy efficiency as global demand for cooling increases. Here’s what you need to know about the tangible action on HFCs and cooling that happened last week during the GCAS:

California Continued to Lead and Innovate

California has been on the leading edge of state level action to address HFCs for years now, having set a specific target to reduce HFC emissions 40% by 2030. This target is more ambitious and calls for faster emission reductions than even federal policies enacted during the Obama Administration called the ‘SNAP Rules’ which are now being scaled back.

California Governor Jerry Brown also signed a new bill into law this week, SB1013 or The California Cooling Act. SB1013 fully backstops the federal SNAP Rules while in the meantime California’s state agency, the Air Resources Board, will begin looking at additional measures to undertake by next year to meet the more ambitious 2030 target.

The most innovative aspect of SB 1013 and California’s potential leadership on HFCs is an incentive program envisioned for end users of large refrigeration systems like supermarkets. Every typical supermarket contains hundreds of pounds of HFCs and leaks the emissions equivalent of CO2 from 300 cars annually. Incentive programs for climate friendly refrigeration have been successfully employed elsewhere, such as in Canada, Germany and Japan, but this would be the first such program in the United States. Such an incentive program can help these users be early and more rapid adopters of the most climate friendly refrigerant technologies to replace HFCs, while also achieving energy efficiency improvements. In fact, SB 1013 envisions an incentive program for reducing HFCs directly, while also calling for California’s utility regulators to integrate considerations on the climate impact of refrigerants in existing energy efficiency programs that target cooling systems.

Other States Stepped up

New York, Maryland, and Connecticut all announced last week that they will pursue regulations to put the federal SNAP rules in place. This will help sure up current emission reductions and provide certainty that bans on many of the most climate damaging HFCs will stick, at least for new cooling equipment used in these states. The question now is not if but how many states in the US Climate Alliance will join this growing group in the coming months.

Quantifying the potential for enhanced subnational action on HFCs

A number of reports were issued last week to quantify the potential contributions of subnational actors to US emission reductions, with the goal of reporting this progress to the global UN climate meetings later this year. One such report by America’s Pledge quantifies the potential contributions from states and business on HFCs as one of 10 fast action opportunities for mitigating emissions. This report concluded conservatively that through a significant number of states adopting SNAP rules and more supermarkets reducing their refrigerant leakage, states and businesses can contribute 5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) by 2025. However in a more ambitious, ‘enhanced action’ scenario, the report found that if all states follow the lead of California in targeting a 40% reduction in emissions, the United States could conservatively reduce HFC emissions even further, by an additional 15 Mt CO2e beyond current measures by 2025. (See figure below)

How states and businesses can further raise the bar on HFCs

It’s clear there is an immediate opportunity and expectation for additional states to put the existing federal SNAP rules on HFCs in place quickly. Even more importantly though, other opportunities exist to bend the curve on HFC emission reductions even further down before 2025. If states look to set more ambitious targets in line with California and also implement programs to incentivize businesses like supermarkets to more rapidly adopt new alternatives and better manage the HFCs used in their existing systems, this can significantly increase emissions avoided by 2025.

Not only can users be incentivized to adopt new systems using better refrigerants more quickly, but a huge chunk of additional emissions from HFCs in current cooling systems can be avoided through the recovery and destruction of these gases. As Project Drawdown recently found, this approach of managing and properly disposing of refrigerants in existing systems is the number one climate solution available today. So the states looking to truly be leaders on reducing HFC refrigerant emissions should continue to innovate with new incentive programs and regulations that target existing HFCs as well as those in new systems.

The biggest takeaway from GCAS is that when it comes to achieving the true potential for reducing HFC emissions in cooling, the work for subnational actors has only just begun.

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