HFCs, widely used as refrigerants, do not damage stratospheric ozone but like CFCs and HCFCs, they are powerful greenhouse gases.
The U.S., with nearly 100 countries in support, has previously proposed a global phasedown of HFC production under the Montreal Protocol. China may be the key to help persuade Brazil and India and the nearly 25 other holdouts to now join the coalition.
HFCs account for only 2 percent of greenhouse gases, but consumption is growing exponentially as use of air conditioning and refrigeration grows in developing countries. According to some estimates, eliminating HFC production could potentially reduce the greenhouse gases by the equivalent of 90 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, equal to roughly two years’ worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions, and could shave as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius from the projected increase in global temperatures by the end of the century.
In addition to being used as refrigerants, HFCs are used in insulating foams, solvents and aerosol products. There are substitutes in some applications, such as automobile air conditioners, but many substitutes are not available yet.
The previous proposals under the Montreal Protocol have called for a gradual phasedown of HFC production through the year 2040. This means that even if there is a global agreement, HFC production will continue for the next several decades to supply the large base of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment already in use around the world. Under any scenario, it will be important for government and the private sector to find economic ways to minimize or prevent emissions of HFCs and the other fluorinated refrigerants, which is what the Refrigerant Revolution is about.