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Energy & Sustainability

World Leaders Seek Innovative Solutions to Climate Change

Kasey Knoell

Associate, ICF

“Amending the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs [hydrofluorocarbons] is one of the single most important unitary steps that we could possibly take at this moment to stave off the worst impacts of climate change and to protect the future for people in every single corner of the globe.”

Those were Secretary of State John Kerry’s words during the Montreal Protocol negotiating sessions in Vienna, Austria in July 2016.

Amidst this optimism, innovators have meaningful opportunity to help the world take this important step to combat climate change and ensure a better future.

HFCs are powerful, fluorinated greenhouse gases that impact the climate thousands of times more than carbon dioxide. These chemicals — used as refrigerants, foam blowing agents, aerosols, solvents and fire suppressants — were created to replace ozone-depleting substances being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.

The markets for refrigeration, air conditioning and foam insulation are accelerating globally, particularly in the developing world, including in the cold food chain, retail food outlets and building developments. If left unconstrained, HFC emissions could triple by 2030 in the United States alone.

This week, the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol took place in Kigali, Rwanda with expectations to adopt an HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which could mitigate up to 100 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2050.

The HFC amendment is an essential proponent to meeting the Paris Agreement targets by averting up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. By adopting the HFC amendment in Kigali, delegates hope to finalize the phasedown schedule and solidify sources of financial support.

In Vienna, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said,

“There is no country that appears to be standing on the sidelines.”

In anticipation of the amendment, the United States, European Union, Japan, Canada and State of California have implemented and/or proposed a growing number of national and regional regulations to phase out these greenhouse gases.

The EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program — which reviews alternative substances and maintains the list of acceptable substitutes — published two rulemakings to prohibit the use of HFCs and encourage the use of new alternatives.

Over the past several years, leaders from all over the world including the G-7, G-20, North American Leaders, Brazil, India and China have declared independent agreements and commitments to work together to phase down the use and emissions of HFCs.

Recent resounding support to adopt an ambitious amendment is also demonstrated from more than 105 countries, more than 500 organizations and hundreds of sub-national governments.

Around the world, numerous commitments and actions from private-sector companies including chemical producers, equipment manufacturers and end-users such as supermarket retail chains to step up and make significant progress to research and implement new technologies to replace HFCs and improve energy efficiency.

These transformative leaders have set the stage to encourage innovation and shape how we use and rely on technology for human comfort.

Stakeholders have expressed concerns about potential barriers to successful implementation of the HFC amendment including:

  • Constraints on development and economic growth,
  • Intellectual property rights,
  • Technological barriers for flammable refrigerants and equipment in high-ambient temperature countries, and
  • A lack of necessary standards and codes and a lack of commercialized alternatives for all industry sectors.

Following the Kigali meetings, innovative entrepreneurs, institutions and investors should focus their attention on inventive ways to address these challenges.

Industry-led Research

The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), in coordination with several others including the U.S. Department of Energy, is leading research efforts for low-GWP refrigerants, including those that are mildly flammable, and prioritizing the update of relevant standards and codes. At its Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the DOE recently evaluated alternative refrigerants for mini-split AC and rooftop AC in high ambient temperature environments.

Technological Advancements

Supermarkets across the globe are installing refrigeration systems with low-GWP alternatives including transcritical CO2 and cascaded ammonia with CO2. Beverage coolers and household refrigerators with hydrocarbons and CO2 vending machines are being used globally.

A low-GWP automobile AC refrigerant, R-1234yf, is also being used in over 10 million vehicles in dozens of new vehicle models.

Energy Efficiency

The growing uses of refrigerators and air conditioners, particularly in countries with low energy efficiency requirements, further increases electricity demand, ultimately resulting in direct HFC emissions and indirect GHG emissions from power generation.

A study conducted last year found that shifting the global room air conditioning market to higher efficiency design and low-GWP refrigerants in parallel would roughly double GHG emission reductions in comparison to implementing either strategy alone.

The Opportunity for Innovators

Innovative companies and end-users are taking the initiative to become industry leaders by integrating unique system designs and alternative refrigerants, changing the institutional concept of the refrigeration and air conditioning industry and how it improves our livelihoods.

Startups and companies in these industries have new opportunities to encourage peak load savings, reduce energy consumption and reduce climate impacts by focusing on trends in energy-efficient appliances that integrate low-GWP refrigerants.

With support from the Multilateral Fund financial mechanism — including $80 million already intended from 16 donor countries and 19 philanthropists — innovators in developing countries can investigate new technologies and transition to low-GWP alternatives under the HFC amendment.

The future of these industries serves as an opportunity to develop climate-friendly and energy efficient technology, ultimately mitigating the release of climate-impacting GHGs. Adopting and transitioning to climate-friendly alternatives could also stimulate economic growth and facilitate innovative leadership in developing countries.

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Kasey Knoell

Associate, ICF

Kasey Knoell is an Associate at ICF in the Climate Change sector supporting policies and programs to reduce the uptake of technologies that impact the climate system and to reduce…