Emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, heat-trapping industrial gases used in air conditioners and refrigerators, must be curbed to help combat climate change, according to the United Nations.
The UN report today comes as governments adhering to the ozone-protection rules of the Montreal Protocol consider phasing out hydrofluorocarbon-23 production, whose warming potential per molecule of HFC is 11,700 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The European Union this year banned as of 2013 its use in the emissions-trading program of credits linked to the industrial gas generated under the UN carbon market.
“Keeping a global, 21st century temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will require urgent action” to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, the UN Environment Program said today in a statement. “By 2050, HFCs could be responsible for emissions equivalent to 3.5 gigatons to 8.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide, comparable to total current annual emissions from transport estimated at 6-7 gigatons annually.”
HFCs are replacements for hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, gases that gained favor in the early 1990s as an alternative to chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, linked by scientists to the depletion of the ozone layer.
The consumption of HFCs is forecast to exceed the peak 1980s levels of the banned CFCs amid rising demand in emerging economies, the report said.
As the global-warming potential of HCFCs was considered unacceptable, more than 190 states that ratified the Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances agreed in 2007 to a total phase-out of the gases by 2030 in developed countries and by 2040 in poorer nations.
Rising 10% Yearly
Emissions of HFCs are rising, with the most popular type, HFC-134a, increasing in the atmosphere about 10 percent a year since 2006, according to the UNEP.
“While these ‘replacement for the replacement’ chemicals cause near zero damage to the ozone layer, they are powerful greenhouse gases in their own right,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in the statement. “The good news is that alternatives exist alongside technological solutions.”
The alternatives include improved building designs that reduce or avoid the need for air conditioners and the use of non-HFC substances such as ammonia or dimethyl ether in foams, refrigeration and fire-protection systems. Climate-friendly HFCs such as HFC-1234ze of HFC-124yf, which stay in the atmosphere for months, rather than years, are also an option.
Durban Climate Talks
Speaking before the start of the Nov. 28 to Dec. 9 UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, Steiner urged “cooperative action” between the Montreal Protocol and the emissions-reduction Kyoto treaty, whose extension will be one of the hottest topics at the talks.
The binding targets to cut six gases, including HFCs, which the Kyoto Protocol imposes on developed nations, expire next year. Developing countries are calling for a so-called second commitment period beyond 2012; nations including Russia say they won’t agree to new limits under the protocol.
Their absence, along with that of the U.S., which never ratified the treaty, as well as China and India, would leave the Kyoto pact without targets for the five biggest national emitters of pollution from burning fossil fuels.
The 27-nation EU has said it’s open to adopting further Kyoto commitments under certain conditions, including a road map by other countries to a globally binding climate deal.
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