We successfully pressed the NY City Council to pass an historic bill mandating Building Energy Efficiency. Now we’re working to ban climate-damaging refrigerants from our supermarkets and to continue important programs like composting and plastic reduction even during the Covid-19 pandemic.

HFC: The Potent Greenhouse Gas (Almost) Nobody Knows About

A Brief History

 

If I mention the term “greenhouse gas,” what comes to mind? Clouds of toxic vapor rising from power plants?  Car exhaust on highways?

Probably.

The air-conditioner in your bedroom window or

the refrigerator in your kitchen?

Probably not.

 

But inside these appliances lurks another greenhouse gas – invisible and odorless – that has a global warming impact one thousand to SIX THOUSAND times that of carbon dioxide[1] called Hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

 

HFCs are the refrigerant used in air conditioners, refrigerators, dehumidifiers and flame-resistant products. When refrigerators and air conditioners leak or if they are not safely disposed of, HFCs are released into the atmosphere.

 

As global temperatures rise, especially in developing countries, more refrigeration and air conditioning is needed. If HFC emissions are left unchecked, these emissions could make up 7-19% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

 

You may have heard of Freon, another class of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were the most commonly used refrigerants for many years. In the 1970s, scientists discovered that CFCs[2] were depleting the protective ozone layer, creating a large hole over Antarctica. To address this problem, 197 countries came together in 1987 and signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out the use of CFCs.

 

The ozone-destroying CFCs were replaced by HFCs. Although HFCs have a benign effect on the ozone layer, they are a highly potent greenhouse gas, and a major contributor to climate change[3]. In 2016 the Kigali Amendment was added to the Montreal Protocol, committing countries to phasing down of HFCs.

 

However, the US Federal Administration has refused to ratify the Kigali Amendment (as of 2020). This is despite the fact that the air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturing industries support it. Even worse, in 2017 the Administration reversed an Obama EPA[4] ruling that would have enforced a national phase-down of HFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners. Now, California, Washington, New Jersey and Vermont have passed their own state legislation to phase down HFCs, with several other states, including New York State, planning their own legislation.

 

Just recently (April 7, 2020) a Federal Appeals court partially restored the Obama EPA regulation, which if upheld, will have a huge impact on the timing of the phase-down.[5]

 

By Jane Selden, Activist, 350NYC.org

March 9, 2020 – Department of Environmental Conservation Hearing on HFCs in New York state. Activists – Front: Jane Selden, Rachel Goodgal, Rachel Mackleff, Dorian Fulvio, Margaret Perkins (350NYC), Catherine Skopic (Sierra Club NYC). Rear: Monica Weiss, Leslie Stevens, Eva-Lee Baird, Evelyn Reilly (350NYC), Keith Voos (Drawdown NYC). Not shown: Eileen Leonard (350NYC)

 

[1] “The Benefits of Basing Policies on the 20 Year Global Warming

Potential of HFCs”:

http://conf.montreal-protocol.org/meeting/oewg/31oewg/ngo-publications/Observer%20Publications/Benefits%20of%20Basing%20Policies%20on%2020%20GWP%20of%20HFCs.pdf

[2] And their chemical cousins, HCFCs

[3] Surface Temperature Change by HFCs,

graph NRDC.org

[4] SNAP Program:  Significant New Alternatives Policy: an EPA program with the purpose of evaluating and listing substitutes for ozone-depleting substances

[5] https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08042020/us-appeals-court-dc-restores-limitations-super-polluting-hfcs.

 

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