A week before world leaders will discuss how to slow the increase of dangerous gases in the atmosphere, the Obama administration announced that it has reached agreements with a range of major companies to voluntarily phase out a class of chemicals that are used in refrigerators and air conditioners and seen as contributors to global warming.
The chemicals, called hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, became the popular alternative to the refrigerant, Freon, banned in the 1990s as a danger to the planet’s ozone layer. The HFCs do not harm the Earth’s ozone layer, but the gases are considered a major force in climate change – up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the White House.
Without any action by industry and government, HFC emissions are expected to nearly double by 2020 and triple by 2030.
According to the administration, the steps announced on Tuesday are designed to reduce HFCs, especially R-134a, causing a drop in greenhouse gases by 1.5 percent from 2010 levels. That is the equivalent of removing about 15 million vehicles from U.S. highways.
Companies including the chemical manufacturer DuPont and some of the biggest users of refrigerants, such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Red Bull, have voluntarily agreed to take steps to cut their use of HFCs. Also included are important retailers such as Target and Kroger.
The announced corporate commitments cover the gamut from where the chemicals are produced to how they have an impact on consumers’ actions.
Also among those agreeing to take steps to cut HFCs was the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, a coalition of chemical manufacturers representing 95 percent of U.S. production of HFCs, according to the White House. The alliance also announced its members will seek to reduce global HFC greenhouse-gas contribution by 80 percent by 2050.
The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration Institute, an industry association representing 90 percent of U.S. air-conditioning manufacturing and 70 percent of the global industry, announced Tuesday that its member companies will commit to spending $5 billion on research and development to commercialize technologies with low global-warming potential over the next 10 years.
The Obama administration has been seeking since 2010 to phase out production of HFCs, through both voluntary agreements and proposed new amendments to the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that outlawed Freon. During the summer, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed two new rules to smooth the transition to climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs, including the expansion of the list of acceptable alternatives.
President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend next week’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York, where he will push for policies cutting the use of chemicals that have led to climate change. Tuesday’s announcement is also designed to “build momentum for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the global production and consumption of HFCs,” the White House said.
The United States and China agreed last year to work together to phase down the consumption and production of HFCs, and G-20 leaders have backed the reduction.