UNEP launches report on why and how to avoid HFC climate impact

UNEP launches report on why and how to avoid HFC climate impact

At a side event held yesterday in the context of the 23rd meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Indonesia, UNEP launched UNEP launches report on why and how to avoid HFC climate impacta new report that examines the potential impact of rising HFC use on the global climate, as well as the availability of low-GWP solutions today such as hydrocarbons that can continue the success of the Montreal Protocol, while ensuring climate benefits.

The 23rd meeting of the Parties (MOP23) to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer kicked off yesterday in Bali, Indonesia. Following a morning plenary session, whereby much of the time was taken up to discuss whether or not proposals to expand the scope of the Protocol to also cover hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) should be part of subsequent meeting discussions, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) presented at a dedicated side event its new report titled “HFCs: A Critical Link in Protecting Climate and the Ozone Layer”

Potential impact of rising HFC use on the global climate

A first presentation by Professor A.R. Ravishankara of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA and coordinator of the UNEP report focused on the potential impact of rising HFC use on the global climate and the risk of counterbalancing any climate benefits that the Montreal Protocol might have achieved to date.

Indeed, since most ozone-depleting substances are greenhouse gases, the reduction in their global consumption has also brought major climate benefits of 8 Gigatonnes per year in equivalent CO2. However, HFCs that are being replacing ozone-depleting substances are also potent greenhouse gases, while their consumption is rising fast. It is expected that the consumption of HFCs by 2050 could surpass the peak level of CFC use in the 1980′s, due mainly to rising demand in emerging economies.

Yesterday also saw the publication of the latest World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which affirms the rise in HFC emissions and notes that not only did total greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reach a new high in 2010 since pre-industrial time, but also the rate of increase has accelerated. “Concentrations of other gases such as HCFCs and HFCs, which are used to substitute CFCs because they are less damaging to the ozone layer, are increasing rapidly”, reads the WMO press release announcing the release of the bulletin.

Low-GWP solutions such as hydrocarbons commercially available today

In a second presentation, Melanie Miller, of Touchdown Consulting, Belgium, discussed the availability already today of low-GWP (low Global Warming Potential) solutions, including natural refrigerants hydrocarbons, CO2 and ammonia, and the need to expand their use as a means to ensuring additional climate benefits by the Montreal Protocol.

Mrs Miller noted that low-GWP alternatives are already in commercial use in specific applications and in different geographic regions, while additional alternatives are under development. While in some sectors low GWP alternatives currently represent a small market share, there are other sectors where low GWP solutions enjoy a significant market share. For example:

  • 36% share of hydrocarbons in new domestic refrigerators and freezers (51% in industrialised and 22% in developing countries)
  • 25% share of ammonia, CO2 and hydrocarbons in new industrial air-conditioning equipment globally (40% in industrialised and 15% in developing countries)
  • 65% share of ammonia, CO2 and hydrocarbons in new large industrial refrigeration installations such as cold storage, ice skating rinks, and large-scale freezing of food (92% in industrialised and 40% in developing countries), with hydrocarbons in chemical refineries for example being used commercially for decades.

The UNEP report also draws upon case studies with natural refrigerants, including:

  • the launch of a hydrocarbon room air conditioning production facility in China and the propagation of hydrocarbons in additional facilities in China but also other Article 5 countries.
  • the success story of the use of hydrocarbons in new domestic refrigerators and freezers that has grown to about 36% of the global market, and is expected to reach about 75% of global production by 2020.

Mrs Miller also discussed examples of low-GWP alternatives under development including hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, HFC1234yf and other blends in vehicle air conditioning to replace HFC134a in cars and light trucks, as well as HFC134a and HFC407C in buses and trains. Development has been driven by the Mobile Air Conditioning Directive in the EU which bans refrigerants with GWP > 150 in mobile air conditioning, an initiative that has also triggered plans by the US Environmental Protection Agency to initiate the process of removing HFC134a from the list of refrigerants allowed to be used in air conditioning systems of new passenger cars and light-duty vehicles in the US.

Taking into consideration full lifecycle direct and indirect emissions

The report also notes that to reap real climate benefits of low-GWP alternative systems, it is important that both direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions during the full lifecycle are lower than the total emissions that HFC systems they replace would entail. In turn indirect emissions relating to energy consumption need be considered from cradle to grave, including manufacture, use and disposal.

“[…] systems using low-GWP alternatives are able to achieve equal or superior energy efficiency in a number of sectors, such as domestic refrigeration, commercial refrigeration and some types of air-conditioning systems”, notes the UNEP report while referring to the 2010 report by UNEP’s Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP). “In the case of industrial refrigeration, for example, hydrocarbon and ammonia systems are typically 10-30% more energy- efficient than conventional high-GWP HFC systems”. Regarding air conditioning, energy efficient sectors mentioned include mobile air-conditioning, small air-conditioning units, small and larger reciprocating chillers (<7,000 kW), scroll chillers (10-1,600 kW) and screw chillers (100-7,000 kW).

Going forward

Going forward, more work is needed:

  • On the estimates of the climate influence of future HFC scenarios: a wider range of assumptions about future trends in HFC consumption, emissions, and climate impact need to be examined.
  • Further analysis of technical and regulatory barriers to the adoption of low-GWP alternatives, and means to overcoming them.
  • Examination of the life-cycle impacts of alternatives to ensure that they provide climate benefits and do not entail undesirable side effects on the environment or the society.


The 23rd meeting of the Parties (MOP23) to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer takes place on 21-25 November 2011 in Bali, Indonesia. The meeting agenda covers proposed amendments to the Protocol to include HFCs under its scope, as well the phase-out of HFC23 by-product emissions.

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