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Preventing runaway climate change by mitigating emissions of super greenhouse gases – hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

Through a global phase-down of HFCs we have the opportunity and the obligation to mitigate 100 billion CO2 equivalent metric tons by 2050.

EIA's Climate Campaign focuses on international and domestic policies to phase-down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) used primarily in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam applications. As part of our work, we have undertaken groundbreaking investigations into the illegal trade in ozone depleting substances (ODS) and have been closely involved in international ozone and climate negotiations for more than a decade.

HFCs were developed as replacement chemicals for ODS (CFCs - chlorofluorocarbons and HCFCs - hydrochlorofluorocarbons), which have been or are currently being phased-out under the Montreal Protocol. Unfortunately, HFCs have huge global warming potentials (GWPs) and are several thousands of times more damaging to the climate than CO2. If left unchecked, HFC emissions will continue to increase exponentially and could constitute up to 19% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, potentially negating a significant amount of climate change mitigation actions pledged by countries to date under the 2015 Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the most cost-effective, short-term and fast-action strategy for reducing GHG emissions. A global phase-down could avoid 1.1–1.7 billion metric tons CO2 equivalent (CO2 equivalent is a measure used to compare impacts of greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential in relation to CO2) of GHG emissions per year by 2030, with cumulative emission reductions of nearly 100 billion metric tons CO2 equivalent by 2050.

Fortunately, HFC-free technologies are available to enable a phase-down of HFCs and replace these dangerous, climate-damaging chemicals. Rapid large-scale transitions to HFC-free alternatives is not only possible but also critical to protect the climate.

EIA's Total Impact on Protecting the Climate

EIA's Forest Campaign is also crucial to protecting the world's climate. Deforestation and forest degradation releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and dramatically reduces the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to climate change. Healthy natural forests store vast amounts of carbon and are the most resilient to climate change and other disturbances. An independent report estimates that the push to stop illegal logging globally, which has been led by EIA, already saved 17 million hectares (42 million acres) from deforestation and forest degradation between 2002 and 2010, totaling between an estimated 1.2 and 14.6 billion metric tons of avoided carbon emissions.

Between phasing out HFCs via a global agreement under the Montreal Protocol and defending the governance of the global forests from illegal logging, these two EIA campaigns will combine to cut about half of all projected GHG emissions in 2050.

A global phase-down of HFCs at the Montreal Protocol is the largest, fastest and most cost-effective climate change mitigation option currently available.
Objectives:
  • Expose and prevent illegal trade in synthetic chemicals
  • Successful implementation and enforcement of the Kigali Amendment to achieve a swift global phase-down of HFCs
  • Increase collaboration between policymakers, civil society, and the private sector
Large HFC consuming countries must lead the way in enacting regulations to phase down HFCs and commercialize alternatives
Objectives:
  • Enact ambitious national regulations in major consuming countries
  • Enhance near-term mitigation of HFC consumption and emissions
  • Facilitate broad market uptake of HFC-free alternatives
Widespread adoption of HFC-free technologies is cost-effective, energy efficient, and climate-friendly.
Objectives:
  • Maximizing energy efficiency co-benefits
  • Raise awareness of available HFC-free alternatives
  • Ensuring direct transitions to lowest-GWP alternatives
Updating existing standards and codes, which currently prevent market uptake of HFC-free alternatives, is critical to successful implementation of a global phase down of HFCs.
Objectives:
  • Broaden stakeholder engagement in standards development
  • Accelerate adoption of updated standards, particularly in the U.S.
  • Remove market barriers posed by obsolete standards
Illegal production, use, and trade in banned or controlled ozone-depleting substances and greenhouse gases used in the cooling sector remains a critical obstacle to international efforts to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Recent Blog Posts

Can I be HFC-free? A Quest for Climate-friendly Cooling
08/10/2020
Supermarkets in particular have enormous refrigeration systems that extend past the display cases to back room chillers, refrigerated trucks, cold warehouses and so on. With such large systems, supermarkets are among the largest corporate offenders of HFC use, with thousands of tons of these chemicals throughout their cold chain. Yet out of nearly 40,000 supermarkets in the U.S., barely 1% are known to have transitioned to HFC-free systems; our Supermarket Scorecard shows that action and change throughout the industry is needed. These large companies have a greater climate footprint than you or me, and thus a greater responsibility to transition to climate-friendly alternatives.
Finding the Promise in Compromise: EIA Proposal to Jumpstart California HFC Reclaim
07/27/2020
Last week EIA participated in California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) 6th workshop on proposed regulations to reduce emissions of super pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in cooling. The state’s rigorous process for proposing new regulations on HFC refrigerants has been ongoing for several years now and is in the final stretch. Opportunities for stakeholder engagement have been abundant and ARB has invited input from industry along the way. They even aligned with an industry proposed 2023 deadline for transitioning new air conditioning equipment to refrigerants with a global warming potential (GWP) less than 750.

Recent Reports

EIA Comments to OEWG-42
07/02/2020
EIA Comments to the 42nd Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG-42) TEAP Replenishment Task Force Report .
EIA Comments on ASHRAE-15 Standards Proposal
03/25/2020
EIA comments on a proposed revision to a major U.S. safety standards, ASHRAE-15, calling for important revisions.

Recent Press Releases

Climate-friendly Supermarket Scorecard
06/25/2020
Today, EIA launched the Climate-friendly Supermarket Scorecard assessing the largest U.S. supermarkets on actions and commitments to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - potent greenhouse gases used in cooling.
China Proposes Stronger Steps to Protect our Climate and Ozone
05/21/2020
Today, China proposed a new national plan to tackle hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent greenhouse gases used primarily in cooling.
What are the HFC-free Technologies?
Widespread adoption of HFC-free technologies is cost-effective, energy efficient, and climate-friendly. Read EIA’s report Putting the Freeze on HFCs for hundreds of examples of HFC-free technologies available and in use today.
A Global HFC Phase-down
The October 2016 Montreal Protocol meeting in Kigali, Rwanda yielded a global agreement to phase down HFCs. Now countries must ratify and implement the Kigali Amendment! Read and share EIA's briefing on this great opportunity and obligation to avert climate catastrophe.
Help us mitigate climate destroying gases
Where are HFCs used?
What are HFCs?
How to Recycle Your Fridge