How Do Refrigerants Impact Climate Change?

How might common refrigerants impact the planet’s climate? Scientists have spent a lot of time studying chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. They have also studied chemicals that may be used to replace CFCs, such as HCHCs and HFCs. The main concern is that once these refrigerants are emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere, they may have a negative impact on the ozone layer of the planet’s atmosphere. In turn, this may increase warming and the harmful rays that reach the ground. If you’re concerned about the environment and the role refrigerants may play in climate change, take a few minutes to learn more.

Do Common Refrigerants Accelerate Climate Change?

Changes in climate may stem from many different man-made and natural factors. Since the ecosystem is interconnected and complex, figuring out the exact impact of refrigerants isn’t easy for even top scientists to parse. According to a scientific report in Science Direct, the increase in concentration of CFCs have caused about one-quarter of the warming from greenhouse gassed just in the last 10 years. [1]

At the same time, decreases in ozone that may come from CFCs and other emitted chemicals may actually make the atmosphere cooler. Still, the paper concluded that the chemicals considered as replacements for CFCs should have a much lower impact on warming and the ozone layer. Even though no scientist can say exactly what the impact of refrigerants have been on the global warming trend, the tend to agree that using chemicals that make less impact is probably a prudent step.

When most people think about greenhouse gasses, the think of carbon dioxide and perhaps, methane. Even though these may be the most common emissions, other gasses like CFCs and HFCs may have more impact in lesser quantities.

 

Worldwide Agreement To Ban Certain Refrigerants

In any case, representatives from almost 200 countries gathered in Rwanda for a UN meeting to discuss the impact of some refrigerants upon the ozone and the overall climate. In 2016, they agreed to take steps to ban these chemicals and believe that this action can reduce future emissions by almost 90 percent during the 21st Century. [2]

An atmospheric scientist in the Netherlands, Guus Velders, said that this was a good deal to help reduce man-made climate change. This pact also includes HFCs, which are also greenhouse gasses. The agreement included promoting the use of newer chemicals that are considered safe for the ozone layer and the world’s climate.

How Will The Transition To Climate-Friendly Refrigerants Happen?

Obviously, emissions from one country can impact the climate and atmosphere of other countries. With this agreement, more developed countries will begin the transition. It’s mostly labs and companies in these countries that have developed and marketed the alternative refrigerants. Of course, developed countries also tend to be responsible for more emissions, so many supporters agree that this agreement is fair.

After more developed countries have begun the transition, they have also agreed to help less-developed nations with their own changes. Part of this agreement also included help with funding. The discussion in the UN meeting didn’t not really focus so much upon the positive benefits of making this change. It focused more about the sources and amounts of funding for nations with struggling economies.

Why Focus Upon HFCs and CFCs

Carbon dioxide may account for 50 times more of the volume of emissions. However, it’s not helpful to only consider the volume. Scientists also have to consider the impact of a specific volume of gas and the predicted length of time that gas will remain in the atmosphere.

The Global-Warming Potential Of CFCs and HFCs

Scientists assign a measure called a “global-warming potential” to various emissions. This GWP measures the amount of heat that a particular gas will trap when released into the atmosphere. More specifically, the measurement is written as the ratio of the heat-trapping ability of a gas when compared to that of CO2. [3]

So CO2 has a GWP of one and is usually expressed upon a century-long timescale. CFCs, the most common refrigerant, have a GWP in the thousands. Even if there are fifty times more CO2 emissions in the air, CFCs have a much larger impact. While they aren’t as impactful as CFCs, HFCs, have a GWP that may range from 140 to over 11,000. This means that avoiding even small amounts of emissions from CFCs and HFCs can have a large impact.

The Lifespan Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In order to determine impact, it’s also important to consider how long a gas will stay in the atmosphere before it gets converted to another chemical or deposited back to the Earth. Naturally, the lifetime of these gasses can vary quite a bit. However, most of these refrigerants have very short lifetimes when compared to other gasses like methane or carbon dioxide.

According to Bluonenergy.com, this means that reducing the emissions of CFCs and HFCs now can have a very quick and positive impact. Since these kinds of emissions may be as responsible for 40 percent of measured climate change, reducing their use today can make a big difference within just a few years. This is very different than greenhouse gasses with longer life spans because with those today’s reductions may not help for decades or even for centuries.

Why Replace Harmful Refrigerants With Better Alternatives

Almost all climate scientists agree that man-made activities has made an impact upon the climate and the ozone layer. Chemicals used for refrigerants have been some of the most impactful, and there are less harmful alternatives that people can use. It is true that this transition will cost a considerable amount of money, and the richer counties may have to help out the poorer countries.

At the same time, it’s important to recognize how much of an impact these gasses have made upon the natural environment. Since these kinds of chemicals tend to have a short lifespan, any reductions made now should be seen and felt in the near future. That’s why the investment is a good one.

Sources:

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0140700794900825

[2] https://www.nature.com/news/nations-agree-to-ban-refrigerants-that-worsen-climate-change-1.20810

[3] https://www.livescience.com/38519-refrigerant-hfcs-devastating-to-climate.html