On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that it had secured voluntary agreements from America’s largest companies to reduce or phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent greenhouse gases.
HFCs came into more common use in manufacturing after chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were discovered to be damaging the ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 called for the gradual, global phase out of CFCs, which has been instrumental in repairing the hole in the ozone.
CFCs were used as chemical coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners. Today, HFCs have largely taken their place.
According to the UN’s recent assessment on the state of the ozone layer, “Hydrofluorocarbons do not harm the ozone layer but many of them are potent greenhouse gases. They currently contribute about 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year. These emissions are growing at a rate of about seven percent per year. Left unabated, they can be expected to contribute very significantly to climate change in the next decades.”
HFCs have 10,000 times the warming capacity of carbon dioxide. Like methane emissions, HFCs do not linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon, but they have the potential to significantly increase the effects of global warming. It is for this reason that President Obama has secured voluntary agreements from Coca-Cola, Target, Red Bull, Kroger, Honeywell and others, to reduce HFC production. DuPont, the company that invented fluorinated refrigerants, has also joined the list.
Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, has lauded the motion. “Every drumbeat in this symphony helps,” he said. “It drives it along. This is part of that drumbeat.”
“The benefits from cutting non-CO2 come much faster,” he added. “CO2 is like a supertanker – you can stop it, but it keeps drifting for a long time. Cutting HFCs are like stopping a steamboat. You stop it and that’s that.”
According to the White House, a total of 22 companies and organizations have agreed to phase out use of the HFC R-134a, as well as others, by 2020. These reductions will be the equivalent of removing 15 million cars from the road for 10 years.
This announcement comes ahead of next week’s international climate summit hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“The intended purpose is to highlight what we are doing and show North American leadership in this area,” Steve Yurek, CEO of the Air Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute, told The Hill. “You often hear that North America isn’t doing anything but we have done more in the past 10 years and plan to do more in the next 10 years.”
In addition to phasing out HFCs in the commercial industry, the White House has pledged to do the same within its agencies and federal buildings.