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UN urged to take action against HFCs at Montreal Protocol talks

Without an HFC ban, analysts say 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) could be released into the atmosphere

(Pic: David Shankbone)

(Pic: David Shankbone)

By Nilima Choudhury 

Governments are being urged to agree to a global ban on the use of climate-warming gases used in refrigeration units at UN talks taking place in Bangkok this week.

The main focus of the 25th Meeting of Parties to the Montreal Protocol is the state of the ozone layer, but it also has responsibility for controlling the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a replacement for ozone-killing chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs).

The UK-based Environment Investigation Agency warns that unless tough regulations are agreed, 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2e) could be released into the atmosphere by 2050, accounting for 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Every tonne of HFC released is the equivalent of thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide.

“We have seen a few slightly hysterical comments from the chemical industry about how much moving away from their HFC products would cost – they are simply trying to protect their profits, nothing more,” says EIA senior campaigner Clare Perry.

Recent agreements by China, the USA and the G20 have paved the way to phase out HFCs and to encourage both developed and emerging nations to switch to cleaner alternatives.


Commercial refrigeration represents a significant proportion of HFC emissions.

According to the EIA, banning the use of HFCs in supermarkets would be one of the cheapest and most effective ways of reducing greenhouse gases in Europe.

Replacement technologies primarily relying on carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons are increasingly cost-effective, and upfront costs are expected to fall further as production volumes are increased.

EIA’s latest survey of the supermarket sector – Chilling Facts V – revealed that supermarket chains across the EU, and particularly in the UK, are moving away from HFCs towards natural refrigerants, and reaping benefits in the process.

But the body has also released a report called The Dirty Dozen – How your local supermarket is killing the climate pointing fingers at 12 US retailers which have failed to cut HFCs.

It found the likes of Costco, Safeway, Walmart and Whole Foods have not taken substantial action to begin phasing out HFCs or reduce the amount of HFC emissions leaking from refrigeration systems.

Each US supermarket emits on average 1,556 metric tons of CO2 equivalent of HFCs annually from leaks in their systems, which is equivalent to more than 300 passenger cars.

“Although momentum for reducing super greenhouse emissions is growing worldwide,” said Allan Thornton, President of EIA, “even Walmart, the world’s largest retailer has failed to show leadership by taking meaningful action to protect the global climate from further damage.”

While Costco and Meijer scored the lowest and Delhaize America scored the highest, none of the stores received a passing grade even though a majority of the retailers are members of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF).

The CGF is an international network of the world’s largest retailers, which in 2010 committed to begin phasing out HFCs in 2015.

A Walmart spokesman told RTCC that the company is “working to address both the refrigerant gas pollution and the energy intensity of [its] systems. We leverage our global size and scale to invest in and implement technology that has the potential to reduce our carbon footprint and save customers money.”

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  • BrentOz

    Many thanks for this article on a much overlooked backwater of the climate debate, agreement on #HFCs is imperative if the massive climate benefits of the CFC (and ongoing HCFC) phaseout are not to be eroded, making the task of addressing CO2 so much more difficult than it needs to be.

    Ammonia (NH3) also has a very significant role in providing alternatives – or rather solutions – to #phaseoutnotdown the HFCs, and while there are no simple solutions natural refrigerants industry experts are united in their conviction we have the tools needed to aim for high level of ambition in swiftly phasing out HFCs. These #natrefs solutions are very rapidly becoming more widely available and are particularly commercially attractive because of their high energy efficiency relative to emerging low GWP proprietary fluorochemicals, and perform well in high ambient temperature regions. Convincing recalcitrant Parties of this proposition is one of the main stumbling blocks confronting the #MOP25 negotiations.

    To follow developments as they unfold during the week, please follow any of these hashtags on twitter, and please RT the ones you like?

  • Whatever man

    HFC’s are one of the ozone friendly and commercially viable alternatives to HCFC’s and CFC’s. I think the author of this article confused them with HCFC’s (like R-22) which are being phased out by 2015 in developed nations according to the montreal protocol.