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HFCs: Ozone-saving Gas Targeted for Climate Effect

The use of Hydrofluorocarbons in cooling systems may save the ozone layer – but it will harm the climate.

The Montreal Protocol, set in action in 1987, forced the phase-out of ozone-depleting gases chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and later hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). But the hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) that are replacing them could have an equally negative impact on climate change.

HFCs are used as refrigerants and foam-blowing agents and emitted as leakage from air conditioning and refrigeration systems. They have a global warming potential similar to that of HCFCs and hundreds to thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide.

Unless action is taken, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that emissions of HFCs will triple from 0.4 billion tons carbon dioxide equivalence in 2002, to 1.2 billion tons in 2015. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) expects HFC emissions to be considerably higher in light of the accelerated phase-out of HCFCs agreed by the Montreal Protocol in September 2007.

The biggest emitters of HFCs are mobile air conditioning (MAC) systems in cars (66% of all HFC emissions according to 2002 data from US EPA and ADEME); followed by commercial refrigeration, and particularly supermarket refrigeration (23%); and finally stationery air conditioning systems (6%) such as found in retail units and offices.

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