Today, built into each cooling appliance and insulating foam in nearly every household, building, and car in America and across most of the world, there sits a type of fluorinated gas called a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) and/or a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC). When leaked out into the atmosphere, HCFCs cause the depletion of Earth’s ozone layer and both HCFCs and HFCs are extremely potent climate warmers.
There is a huge opportunity for chemical producers, equipment manufacturers, federal and state policymakers, major corporations, and maintenance professionals to come together to prevent as many of these potent chemicals as possible from making it into the atmosphere. This report makes a first attempt at laying out the starting point for an approach, referred to here as Lifecycle Refrigerant Management (LRM). LRM focuses on avoiding and reducing refrigerant leaks, promoting refrigerant recovery, and increasing reclamation rates to mitigate unnecessary refrigerant use and emissions.
By combining energy efficiency improvements with the transition away from super-polluting refrigerants, the world could avoid cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of up to 210-460 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) over the next four decades, depending on future rates of decarbonisation. This is roughly equal to 4-8 years of total annual global greenhouse gas emissions, based on 2018 levels.
There are many policy options and approaches to seize these benefits explored here.
In a warming world cooling will be increasingly important for people’s health and productivity, and for achievement of many of the SDGs. However, growing demand for cooling will, if current approaches are continued, contribute significantly to further global warming, both from the emissions of HFCs and other refrigerants, and from the CO2 and black carbon emissions from the mostly fossil fuel-based energy currently powering ACs and other cooling equipment. If robust policies are implemented quickly to promote the use of best available technologies in the cooling sector, the associated emission reductions will make significant contribution to meeting Paris Agreement goals. A combined strategy to improve energy efficiency of cooling equipment while phasing down HFC refrigerants under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol presents one of the biggest mitigation opportunities available today.