US and China agree deal to cut HFC greenhouse gases

By John Parnell

The US and China have announced plans to cooperate on phasing out a set of potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons.

The agreement was made during a US-China summit held in California this weekend. It is understood that climate change was high on the agenda following the establishment of a working group earlier this year to explore areas for cooperation on climate and energy.

“The United States and China agreed to work together and with other countries through multilateral approaches that include using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs,” the White House said in a statement.

The US bicameral task force on climate change highlighted the scale of the opportunity for short term climate gains if the two nations were to work together to phase out the chemicals, which are primarily used for refrigeration and air conditioning.

Together the countries account for 43% of global emissions, while some scientists have predicted that if emissions of HFCs continue to grow, they could be responsible for 20% or more of the global atmospheric warming by 2050.

The expansion of the use of air conditioning is one of the main drivers of the growth in HFCs (Source: Flickr/Yoni Lerner)

HFCs have a shorter life in the atmosphere and are produced in smaller volumes to CO2 but can be thousands of times more potent at warming the atmosphere.

There are growing calls for the same UN mechanism that eradicated the use of HFC’s ozone depleting predecessor, to be amended to include HFCs as well.

“This is a significant step forward for the two nations that are the largest emitters of greenhouses gases. It’s the kind of international cooperation we’ll need to drive a comprehensive solution,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund.

UN Environment Programme chief Achim Steiner added his praise: “Along with a variety of recent signals from several key countries including China and the United States, this one on HFCs by these two key economies is welcome as the world moves towards a universal UN treaty on climate change by 2015 – certainly allowing the market for HFCs to grow will only aggravate the challenge of combating climate change”.

China has already announced it would stop production of a related industrial gas, HCFCs and extending this to HFCs would deepen the impact on climate change further. The EU is also pushing for a gradual phasedown.

The Montreal Protocol successfully phased out CFCs, an ozone depleting gas and is considered one of the most successful piece of environmental legislation ever. HFC was one of the replacement gases.

The Montreal Protocol was designed for all the same industrial sectors that HFCs are used in today leading many to believe it is the perfect tool to cut HFCs.

They are currently dealt with under the UN’s climate change negotiations. India has led this opposition – its chief concern is that its industry will not be supported through the replacement process and that some of the alternatives to HFC could prove expensive.


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