New Climate Change Accord Targets HFCs

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July 24, 2016

Representatives from nearly 200 countries have agreed, in principle, to ban the use of hydrofluorocarbons. The announcement came after a 10-day series of meetings in Vienna.

Agreed on so far is only draft language. The final version will be hammered out in October, in another conference, in Kigali, Rwanda. But the agreement of the change to existing practice could well be significant, for a few reasons.

The representatives were from the same countries as in Paris in December 2015, for a United Nations summit meeting on climate change. Representatives of every one of the 196 nations attending the summit in Paris pledged to abide by regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Recent rate measurements have ranged from 2.5 degrees to 3.76 degrees. Actions taken by individual countries, however, are voluntary.

Air conditioners, refrigerators, and aerosols make frequent use of HFCs. Anticipating an HFC ban, some chemical companies are already working on legal alternatives.

The ban on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), however, could be more swiftly effective because it is an amendment to the 1989 environmental treaty known as the Montreal Protocol, which carries with it the force of law. That treaty banned chlorofulorocarbons (CFCs), coolants that widened the hole in Earth’s ozone layer. As a result of that treaty, chemical companies across the globe focused more on developing HFCs, which did not damage the ozone layer. However, studies have shown that the production of HFCs increased heat trapped in Earth’s atmosphere at levels up to a thousand times higher than did carbon dioxide. The net effect of that was an even higher element of climate change than had been seen before.

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