Is limiting the use of HFCs the answer to climate change?

There have been many famous climate change deals over the years, but few have come to anything. Source: Ian Britton via flickr

By Anna Dutton

Delegates meeting in Rwanda this week have reached an agreement to limit the use of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Representatives of 150 countries accepted an amendment of the Montreal protocol that aims to reduce HFC use from 2019 in richer countries, with developing nations doing the same from 2024 onwards. Despite the positive reception of the deal, its impact and success is debatable; previous climate change deals have usually proven to be unsuccessful with many being abandoned before their completion.

The aim of the new deal is to cut the production of HFCs which are often found in fridges and air conditioning. HFCs were used to replace Chlorofluorocarbons (CFs) but have since been found to be more damaging because of their impact on the environment. HFCs have a lifespan of 14 years and are 3,830 times more damaging than CO2. Instead of creating a hole in the Ozone Layer, the gases create a bubble around the Earth’s surface, contributing to global warming.

If countries were to uphold this deal and cut the production of HFCs from 2019, the benefits would be immense: production would decrease, causing a subsequent increase in price which would deter countries and large companies from purchasing the goods and we would therefore see a fall in the quantity of HFCs consumed. This would have positive repercussions for the natural environment as a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions is more likely. If these gases were reduced, vast landscapes like the Antarctic and vulnerable lowlands like Bangladesh would be protected from the effects of climate change.

However, the benefits outlined above are unlikely to materialise as historically climate change deals have had little success. Note the example of the recent US report that stated America is unlikely to meet its emissions target for 2025 by expelling an additional 1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases. This is only one example, but it illustrates how many leading countries don’t have sufficient polices in place to meet the targets that have been set. Therefore, it seems idealistic to assume a new deal can be effective if countries do not even have the correct protocols in place to achieve these agreements. Furthermore, it is important to note that countries such as India and China, who are the biggest producers of HFCs, are not expected to cut their production until 2024 onwards, undermining the emphasis on climate change being a global concern.

In addition, the Paris climate agreement of 2015 stated a worldwide commitment to addressing climate change, but as the new deal staggers the commitments of different countries, it makes measuring progress more difficult as statistics could become muddled. Despite the agreement reinstating a commitment to the points outlined by the Paris agreement, the success of closer co-operation is still contestable.

With new deals about climate change taking place often, the prospects of success seem hopeful. However, until countries begin the physical processes of reducing HFC production or cutting emissions, the accomplishment and legacy of any climate change deal will amount too little more than a signature on a lengthy government document.

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