What are we doing about HFCs?! (A. Koundourakis)

Diplomats from around the world are meeting this week in Vienna with a goal to ultimately decrease the use of a potent greenhouse gas: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). This meeting is a huge step forward for the Montreal Protocol, where 200 countries are trying to iron out the finer details on the agreement to cut the use of HFCs used in heating and air conditioning by amending the ozone protection treaty that was signed in 1989. HFCs, under the Montreal Protocol, were outlined as a substitute for the ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons in 1987. However, unluckily, HFCs are about three times as potent as the world’s current annual out of carbon dioxide between now and 2050. The mandates issued out by the meeting to reduce HFCs could strengthen the Paris Climate Agreement and move the Montreal Protocol into the 21st century.

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This meeting has introduced initiatives to replace HFCs with more climate and environmentally friendly alternatives which are estimated to avoid a rise of 0.5C by 2100 and 0.1C by 2050. In order to achieve these targets, each country has agreed to continue using the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund (MLF) – it’s a mechanism through which donor countries helped developing countries phase out CFCs and other ozone destroying and climate damaging chemicals – and to provide sufficient additional financial resources to help countries meet new HFC commitments. There is also a way to ensure that certain exemptions are available as the phase downs proceed. This addresses the fear that alternatives won’t be ready for use when the phase down limit kicks in. These alternatives have usually been a point of contention in the past, pretty much because it is hard to universally agree on particular alternatives for something. One example is HFO-1234yf, this is a hydrofluoro-olefin. Essentially they are hydrogen, fluorine and carbon atoms with at least one double bond between the carbon atoms. To give you a picture of how much better HFO is than HFC, I’ll use their Global Warming Potential, which compares the impacts of different gases on global warming. HFCs have a GWP of 12-14,000. HFOs have a GWP of 4.

Countries such as India and China are now joining the US, Canada, Mexico, the EU and others at the negotiating table. One country that a lot of my resources like to commend is Saudi Arabia, which had usually been a past obstacle. I’m sort of suspicious that Saudi Arabia has joined the coalition mostly because their money originally came from oil. Perhaps they see that oil isn’t their future anymore. I’ve been reading a lot of articles in the past about Saudi Arabia having to adapt and change with non-oil trends. So I get the impression that their interests have changed. China, which is the world’s largest HFC producer, has moved forward with a proposed timeline. North America, India, the EU, several Island States and African groups have offered timelines as well to help lower HFCs in their respective atmospheres.

The goal is to get as close as possible to a final deal, so that the ministers can close the remaining gaps this week and in the months ahead, sign the HFC phase down amendment to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali this October. On Friday and Saturday this past week, ministers have convened for a high level “Meeting of the Parties”, where they developed the specific language of the HFC amendment and built four existing proposals and solutions. Steve Yurek, president of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said that updating the Montreal Protocol is one of the rare cases in which the industry appears to welcome new regulations. He also noted that updates to the Montreal Protocol will create predictability for producers and manufacturers.

This is good. I’m happy that we’re addressing HFCs instead of CO2 this week. Usually, most people think of CO2 when they think of climate change, but it’s a myriad of gases that contribute to global warming. CFCs are much more potent that CO2, so addressing it this week is particularly important for consumers and producers of refrigeration products. I’m delighted to see that countries are negotiating together for a better and cleaner world. I’m still reluctant to jump on the bandwagon and praise the coalition simply because it is politics and things change, but there remains a cautious joy. I hope that the countries are able to implement phase downs and I hope that they provide incentives for consumers to reduce their current HFC use. There are so many different alternatives to so many of the things we already do that it doesn’t necessarily come down to the government, but it comes down to us. Negotiations look good so far and we just need to wait. Good luck.

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