After the Montreal Protocol treaty banned chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, almost 30 years ago, world leaders are once again meeting to discuss a possible treaty amendment that would target hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. Many turned to HFCs to use in air conditioners and solvents after CFCs were banned, but HFCs are said to warm the planet even more than carbon dioxide. Diplomats will meet in Vienna this month to consider an amendment which would “phase down” HFCs.
HFC-134a, which the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development says is the “most abundant and fastest growing” of the HFCs, stays in Earth’s atmosphere for 13.4 years. Granted, that’s not as long as carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere, but over 100 years, HFC-134a results in “1,300 times as much warming as carbon dioxide.” A 2015 study revealed if HFC emissions continue to grow as they are today, by 2050, they could contribute the “equivalent to nine to 19 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.”
Scripps Institution of Oceanography climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan told The Washington Post, “The HFCs effect now is very small. The problem with the HFCs is it’s the fastest-growing greenhouse gas. So by banning HFCs, you prevent another disaster downstream. It could be as high as half to one degree [Celsius] by the end of the century.”
According to a press release from the United Nations Environment Programme, if parties agree on an amendment to phase down HFCs, the world could avoid the equivalent of around “150 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.” Paul Bledsoe, Former Director of Communications in the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton, told The Washington Post, “The phase out of HFCs will achieve the largest temperature reduction in this century – 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit – of any available policy action.”