In a move greeted by many as a win for planet Earth, signatories from over 150 countries met this past weekend in Kigali, Rwanda, to sign an agreement aimed at drastically cutting the world’s production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), known to be a prime contributor to the greenhouse effect and climate change.
Focusing solely on HFCs, currently in wide use in refrigeration and air conditioning technologies, the new deal will require that all signing nations shift to more climate-neutral ways to cool products, homes and buildings.
The Kigali deal, dubbed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as “the single most important step we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet and limit the warming for generations to come,” calls for countries of the developed world such as Canada, the U.S. and those in Europe to begin reducing their use of HFCs by 2018 and to cut back to 15 per cent of 2012 levels by the year 2036. Other countries like China and India will be given longer timespans to reach similar targets.
The agreement comes in the form of an amendment to the Montreal Protocol of 1987 which banned the use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigeration units and itself ushered in the more widespread use of HFCs as a result. And while HFCs do not pose the same threat to Earth’s ozone layer as CFCs, their heat-trapping capacity is immense – 10,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Proponents of the new deal say that the Kigali Accord on its own could reduce global warming by up to a half a degree and keep approximately 70 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere – equivalent to twice the global annual output of CO2.
The Kigali deal has been drafted as an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, still considered the world’s most effective international environmental treaty to date, and thus Kigali is said to have the same treaty-like (read: binding) status. This makes Kigali it “much, much, much stronger than [the Paris Agreement on Climate Change],” according to Durwood Zaelke, the president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, in conversation with the New York Times.
“This is a mandatory treaty. Governments are obligated to comply,” said Zaelke.
The new agreement will mean that countries and corporations will have to invest in new technologies to replace the use of HFCs in refrigeration units like food and beverage coolers and air conditioners, with advocates saying that viable, climate-neutral alternatives are already on hand.
Under its Significant New Alternative Policy (SNAP) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved in 2011 three chemical alternatives to HFCs for use in commercial and household refrigerants and air conditioners, namely, propane, isobutane and a hydrocarbon blend known as R-441A. And while the European Commission on Climate Action says there is not likely a “one size fits all” alternative to HFCs, there are a multitude of options for the main industries like commercial refrigeration, industrial refrigeration, stationary and mobile (vehicle) air conditioning.
The use of climate neutral hydrocarbons is seen as the main future for refrigeration. Many HC cooling devices are already in use in European supermarket refrigeration units with companies like Unilever, PepsiCo and Heineken already adopting the new technologies.