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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

Update on North American Safety Standards for Climate-Friendly Refrigerants
03/25/2020
This month a new standards proposal under ASHRAE-15, represents some progress for uptake of climate-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants to replace super pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The proposal allows hydrocarbons to be used in corridors and lobbies of commercial buildings like hotels. It allows up to 114 grams of propane where previously none was allowed at all. This will enable vending machines and most other light commercial refrigeration equipment like small one door beverage coolers containing hydrocarbons to be used in these spaces.
California’s New Plan to Reduce HFCs in Supermarkets
02/03/2020
Part one in a series on policy trends on eliminating HFCs, emerging from California.

Recent Reports

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.
Search, Reuse and Destroy: Initiating Global Discussion to Act on a 100 Billion Ton Climate Problem
11/06/2019
Search, Reuse and Destroy: Initiating Global Discussion to Act on a 100 Billion Ton Climate Problem

Recent Press Releases

EIA Response to New Nature Paper on Urgent Need to Recover and Destroy CFC Banks
03/17/2020
Washington DC – A new paper published in Nature today warns that emissions from ‘banks’ of ozone-destroying CFCs, could potentially delay the Antarctic ozone hole recovery by about six years. The new paper, Quantifying contributions of chlorofluorocarbon banks to emissions and impacts on the ozone layer and climate, also estimates that future emissions from current CFC banks could lead to an additional 9 billion metric tonnes CO2e between 2020 and 2100.
EPA Rescinds Requirements on Super-Pollutant HFCs, Reversing Basic Safeguards on Leaks
02/27/2020
EPA Rescinds Requirements on Super-Pollutant HFCs, Reversing Basic Safeguards on Leaks

Recent Videos

Blowing It
07/08/2018
Information obtained by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) demonstrates conclusively that the use of CFC-11 in China’s rigid polyurethane (PU) foam insulation sector, in particular in the building and construction subsector, is widespread and pervasive. CFC-11 is used as a foam blowing agent for the manufacture of molded foam panels and spray foam used for insulation purposes
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