Hydrofluorocarbon deals leaves more questions than answers

Hydrofluorocarbons are currently used in cooling and refrigeration units and are key to the operation air conditioners. On October 15, 200 signed a deal to eventually stop the HFC emissions from cooling and refrigeration units. (ElasticComputeFarm/Pixabay Creative Commons)

Nearly 200 countries signed a binding deal to decrease, and eventually stop altogether, hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions on Oct. 15 in Kigali, Rwanda. Hydrofluorocarbons are currently used in cooling and refrigeration units and are key to the operation air conditioners. This deal comes with a goal of phasing out HFCs entirely by 2028, a lofty proposal seeing as there is currently no technology available to take the place of these harmful chemicals.

Politicians and cooling companies alike are excited about the deal. Stephen Yurek, president of a United States-based Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute stated that, “While the freeze dates and step down levels are ambitious, the [air conditioning and refrigeration] industry is confident we can meet them." There is a financial incentive for these companies to develop a replacement for HFCs: whoever can develop an alternative and patent it stands to make a fortune.

Why HFCs though? Out of all the greenhouse gases, typically only carbon dioxide (CO2) is discussed. While carbon dioxide makes up the vast majority of greenhouse emissions, HFCs are roughly 10,000 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide is. Though carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere longer than HFCs do, cutting HFCs now will result in faster, more immediate results than decreasing carbon emissions would.

As always, there are drawbacks to this bill. While the exact amount varies depending on who you ask, retrofitting the cooling and refrigeration systems of entire nations will be extremely costly, amounting to billions of dollars worldwide.

It is hard not to have a pessimistic view of this law. With no governing body or official testers to go from country to country, is it realistic that all 200 countries will follow the law they just signed? Countries like China, whose economies are slowing down, may be unwilling to spend the billions of dollars developing new technology. Underdeveloped countries, who depend on HFCs to try to catch up to the developed countries, may be unwilling to find another way.

I am confident that countries like the United States will follow this law, and may even sell the technology created to decrease HFC emissions, but the notion that the majority of the world will follow is a fantasy. Even though this deal is ‘binding,’ there is no clear punishment or any oversight committee measuring the compliance of each country.

Yet this is a huge step forward from past agreements. What came out of Paris in 2015 was basically a suggestion that countries should try to lower emissions. It was not ‘binding’ nor did it specify anything in particular. This is the first bill of its kind for greenhouse emissions—aimed at cutting back certain chemicals—similar to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which sought to reduce ozone layer depletion.

This bill must be a stepping-stone. While HFCs are one of the most harmful-by-mass pollutants and can have the quickest effects if eliminated, they are not the only ones that should be. Carbon dioxide is a major problem that has largely been unaddressed. There are no real plans or worldwide consensuses on what should be done like there needs to be.

One argument that has been made against this bill is that it will make it harder for developing nations, who are often resource poor, and located in the hottest part of the world, to catch up to the developed countries. But in many cases, these countries, like the ones in Africa, were the first to sign the bill because they realize the future harm not signing it may cause.

The bill is divided up into three sections. The richest countries, like the United States and the European Union, will cease the production and consumption of HFCs by 2018. Mid-level countries like China, Brazil and all of Africa will do the same by 2024. The rest of the world’s hottest countries, especially those in the Middle East, will do the same by 2028.

This is a major bill with high expectations that may not all pan out. We should all be hopeful while pushing for more initiatives like this in the future.


David Csordas is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at david.csordas@uconn.edu.