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Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are potent greenhouse gases used as alternatives to ozone-depleting substances (ODS) being phased out under the Montreal Protocol. Atmospheric observations show that the volume of HFCs in the atmosphere is increasing rapidly, about 10-15% per year.
Significant growth in HFC use is expected in developing countries because of population growth, rapid urbanization, electrification and changing consumer patterns. The increased use of refrigerants will also result in increased energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. If no measures are taken, it is estimated that HFCs will amount to 9-19% of total CO2 emissions by 2050.
Under the HFC Initiative, Coalition partners are currently supporting the development of HFC inventories and studies, information exchange on policy and technical issues, demonstration projects to validate and promote climate-friendly alternatives and technologies, and various capacity-building activities to disseminate information on emerging technologies and practices to transition away from high-GWP HFCs and minimize HFC leakages.
According to research, if the emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substances (ODS) had continued to grow at the rate they were growing before the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone layer, the net effect is equivalent to 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is double total annual greenhouse gas emissions to date. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are rapidly increasing in the atmosphere as they are adopted as ozone-friendly alternatives. Emissions of HFCs are growing at a rate of 8% per year, and by 2050, without action, they could rise so high that they almost cancel the tremendous climate benefits won earlier by the phase-out of ODS.
There are three categories of alternative technical options for minimizing the influence of HFCs on climate: (1) Alternative methods and processes (also called ‘not-in-kind’ alternatives): Commercially used examples include fibre insulation materials, dry-powder asthma inhalers and building designs that avoid the need for air-conditioners; (2) Using non-HFC substances with low or zero GWP: Commercially used examples include hydrocarbons, ammonia, CO2, dimethyl ether and other diverse substances used in various types of foam products, refrigeration, and fire protection systems; and (3) Using low-GWP HFCs: HFCs currently in use have a range of atmospheric lifetimes and GWPs (the shorter the lifetime, the lower the GWP). The mix of HFCs in current use, weighted by usage (tonnage), has an average lifetime of 15 years. However, several low- GWP HFCs (with lifetimes of less than a few months) are now being introduced, e.g. HFC-1234ze in foam.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution on HFC alternatives. Many ozone-friendly and climate-friendly alternatives exist for high-GWP HFCs in a number of sectors. More work needs to be done before full advantage of these alternatives can be taken, and the CCAC contributes to this task through the implementation of HFC inventories, technology demonstration projects, and capacity-building and awareness raising activities. The solution that works best will depend on many factors such as the local situation for production and use, the costs of different alternatives, the availability of components, and the feasibility of implementation.
If you want to collaborate with us to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, we encourage you to explore engagement options on this website and to contact the Secretariat to discuss further.