A Historic Day in Our Fight Against Climate Change

By Administrator Gina McCarthy

Protecting the air we breathe and slowing the effects of climate change are a core part of EPA’s mission. And today, I am proud to say that we, alongside nearly every country on Earth, have taken another historic step in carrying out that mission by cutting down on the use of damaging hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

Countries, including the United States, have long used HFCs to meet their refrigeration and air conditioning needs. These greenhouse gases can have warming impacts hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. In a nutshell, these HFCs cool our homes and chill our food, but they are turning up the temperature of our planet.

And over the next several years, HFC use is expected to not only grow—but multiply. Their emissions are increasing by 10 to 15 percent on an annual basis globally. That’s why, this week in Rwanda, world leaders took a giant leap forward by agreeing to a global phase-down of these harmful gases.

As head of the U.S. delegation to the Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, I met with leaders from around the world who share a commitment to protecting the planet and scaling down these harmful gases. Together, joined by Secretary of State John Kerry, we agreed to take action and get the job done. And that’s exactly what we did.

The Montreal Protocol, a successful global environmental agreement, is already putting the world on track to heal the Earth’s ozone layer by mid-century. And this week, 197 countries agreed on an ambitious amendment that will help protect Earth’s climate by significantly reducing the consumption and production of HFCs.

By acting now, we’re avoiding up to a full half a degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century. This is a big deal, because our scientists say very clearly that we must keep our planet’s temperature from rising 2 degrees above our normal temperature. And today’s announcement brings us that much closer to avoiding that “point of no return.”

We’re also agreeing to devote more resources to finding and using safer, more climate-friendly alternatives. And we’re building on the significant gains we’ve already made to protect ourselves and our children from the dangerous effects of climate change.

At EPA, we’re doing our part to cut down on HFCs here at home.

Just two weeks ago, we finalized two rules that will reduce the use and emissions of HFCs. The first—under our Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program—adds new alternatives to the list of acceptable substitutes for HFCs. It also sets deadlines to completely stop using HFCs in certain applications where safer alternatives are available. The second rule strengthens our current refrigerant management practices and extends them to include HFCs.

This week has truly been historic. Our global commitment to protecting our planet brought us to this moment. It’s an exciting time for all of us who have worked so hard to get here. And while we have seen many significant successes under President Obama’s leadership in tackling climate change, this day will be remembered as one of the most important. I was proud to represent the United States in Rwanda this week. There is no doubt in my mind that U.S. leadership was essential to reaching this agreement.

Yes, there will be challenges ahead. But the past week reminds us that when faced with clear science, when buoyed by the strong partnership of developed and developing countries working together, we can make great strides to protect the one planet we have.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

A “Cool” Way to Combat Climate Change under the Montreal Protocol

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

World climate leaders are meeting this week in Vienna for the next stage of international discussions about a global phase-down of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

This meeting should lay the foundation for a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol – a hugely successful global agreement that has put Earth’s fragile ozone layer on track to full restoration. A 2016 amendment would leverage the same proven mechanisms that helped fix the “ozone hole” to address another serious risk to the planet – HFCs.

When scientists discovered the “ozone hole” in the 1980s, they uncovered a tangible health risk to people and the environment. The ozone layer of our upper atmosphere is a natural sunscreen that protects us from harmful ultraviolet rays. A massive and growing “hole” in the ozone layer threatened to drive up skin cancer rates, harm marine life, ruin crops and even degrade wood, plastic and other construction materials.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol mandated that countries phase out ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and similar chemicals used widely at the time for air conditioning and refrigeration. With 197 countries signing on, it was the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification in the United Nations.

The results have been remarkable. The peak ozone hole has shrunk dramatically by more than four million square kilometers (about the size of India), with a full recovery expected by mid-century. And despite fears of economic disruption, the private sector adjusted cost-effectively.

However, to phase out CFCs, countries needed viable alternatives. Back in the 80s and 90s, more and more sectors began moving toward hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – chemicals that performed well as refrigerants and were significantly healthier for the ozone layer. But like the chemicals they replaced, HFCs are still damaging to our climate system. In fact, they are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful in warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Rapid growth in the use of HFCs threatens to undo much of our progress in reducing other carbon emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.

It is time to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase down the use of HFCs in air conditioning and refrigeration – an urgent priority given the explosive actual and projected growth of air conditioning and refrigeration worldwide.

If we succeed, we could avoid up to 0.5 degree centigrade of warming by the end of the century by shifting towards other, less harmful alternatives. Avoiding that half-degree is crucial for limiting global temperature rise to below 2 degrees centigrade and avoiding the most severe impacts of climate change.

Last November in Dubai, negotiators agreed on a path forward to phase down HFCs by amending the Montreal Protocol in 2016. The amendment would mandate countries to replace HFCs, in stages, with climate-friendly alternatives such as hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and hydrocarbons.

We have the technologies and chemicals to get this done, and are confident we can produce an HFC amendment that works.

U.S. leaders will take the results of a newly-published Department of Energy report, The Future of Air Conditioning for Buildings, to Vienna. It documents air conditioning’s explosive growth worldwide, especially in developing nations, which could lead to huge increases in the use of HFCs and emissions of greenhouse gases. The report finds that air conditioning energy consumption in countries not part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) could rise 4-1/2 times 2010 levels by 2050 – emitting more HFC greenhouse gases and undercutting the Paris Agreement. Substitute chemicals are available to avoid the use of HFCs and their global warming impacts.

Here are some key findings:

  • For air conditioning equipment categories that account for 95 percent of global residential sales and 35 percent of global commercial sales, climate-friendly refrigerants on the market have demonstrated comparable or superior performance and energy efficiency.
  • Also, climate-friendly refrigerants are already being developed and commercialized in all other major air conditioning equipment categories.
  • The air conditioning industry has steadily improved the energy efficiency of air conditioning units over time, including during the transition out of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances into HFCs.
  • Given that energy costs account for the majority of lifecycle air conditioning costs, energy efficiency improvements can more than offset increases in upfront purchase costs to consumers that could result from switching to HFC alternatives.

In short, the report demonstrates that the world is making rapid progress innovating toward a world without HFCs. In the near-term we can expect a wide array of air conditioning options that are climate-friendly, energy-efficient and affordable.

And also today, California is announcing that it will contribute half a million dollars toward a nearly $6 million effort launched last June to conduct critical research regarding the safe use of mildly flammable and flammable alternatives to HFCs. The U.S. made this announcement as part of the launch of the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Advanced Cooling Challenge, in order to accelerate updated safety standards to allow widespread use of these climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally.

As a part of the Challenge, DOE is working with the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to support the acceleration of updated safety standards to allow widespread use of climate-friendly refrigerants in the United States and internationally. In support of the Advanced Cooling Challenge, the DOE is contributing $3 million in funding, AHRI is contributing $1 million, and ASHRAE is contributing $1.2 million.

It’s time for the world to come together to address HFCs. And this week’s negotiations are an important step down that path.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Taking Action on HFCs to Protect our Climate at Home and Abroad

By Gina McCarthy

This week, EPA took another important step in a series of recent actions to help reduce our country’s use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – a potent greenhouse gas. I signed a proposed rule under the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program that will expand the list of climate-friendly HFC alternatives and phase out certain HFCs in favor of safer options that are already available. 

HFCs are predominantly used in air-conditioning and refrigeration and can be up to 10,000 times more damaging to our climate than carbon pollution. Left unchecked, growing HFC emissions would undo critical progress we’ve made to act on climate and protect the planet. 

That’s why cutting their use and emissions is a key part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. The new proposed rule not only supports the President’s goals, it also recognizes the key role of innovative companies in bringing new HFC alternatives to the marketplace. 

This is an example of the important work we’re doing at home. But we’re also making tremendous progress with our international partners to fully address HFCs.

Just yesterday, in a joint announcement, President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping committed to working bilaterally and with other countries to achieve successful outcomes this year in related multilateral fora, including on an HFC amendment under the Montreal Protocol.

And I’m pleased to announce that I’m planning to lead the United States delegation at the Montreal Protocol’s Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties (ExMOP) this July in Vienna. I had the honor of leading the United States delegation to the Montreal Protocol’s 27th Meeting of the Parties in Dubai last November. At that time, the world took a significant step by agreeing to work together on a 2016 Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce the production and consumption of harmful HFCs and achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions. 

Next week is the first preparatory session for the 2016 negotiations in Geneva. This will be the first opportunity since Dubai for countries to come together and make concrete progress on our 2016 phase down amendment. 

As we saw with the historic Paris Agreement, the world can unite in action when the health of our kids and shared home is at stake. The U.S. is ready to build on this spirit and follow through on our commitments to reduce HFCs at home and abroad.

We are making tremendous progress with our international partners. This July in Vienna, I look forward to making more progress on adopting an HFC amendment that will protect our climate for future generations.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.