Why This Work Matters Now

Tim Brown, Gabe Plotkin

The work of preventing catastrophic global climate change will require all of us, all over the world, to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions. The consistent, clear message from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that we must keep our planet from warming to more than 1.5° C above pre-industrial times.

According to the world’s leading scientists, the global community must achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 to have any chance of meeting the 1.5° C target. Unfortunately, we are not on track to meet this goal.

While we wait for strong climate policy to be enacted around the world, there are actions we can take to prevent the release of potent greenhouse gases. But time is running out.

We’re Running Out of Time to Act

The world is releasing more and more greenhouse gases, year over year, not less. In fact, a record volume of greenhouse gases were released in 2019, and emissions in 2020 only reduced by 6.4% despite the pandemic, as reported in Environmental Research Letters and Nature, respectively.

Due to these increases, meeting the 1.5° C target will require deep emissions cuts to be in place by 2030, according to the Emissions Gap Report 2019. In fact, the only scenario to prevent catastrophic climate change is to reduce our emissions of both CO2 and even more-potent non-CO2 gases right now. Left unchecked, these high-impact greenhouse gases will contribute to the melting of sea ice in the Arctic, accelerating climate change by 25 years.

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Targeting Refrigerants Can Have a Big, Immediate Impact

Some of the most important, high-impact greenhouse gases we must target are fluorinated refrigerants. Chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants (CFCs), for example, are as much as 10,900 times more potent than CO2. Hydrochlorofluorocarbon refrigerants (HCFCs) are as much as 1,800 times more potent than CO2. CFCs and HCFCs, which also deplete the ozone layer, are still in use globally despite bans on their production under the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently reported that there are large banks of CFC that still exist around the world, much larger than what was previously assumed. The study concluded that these remaining gases, if not collected or destroyed, could delay the recovery of the ozone layer by six years and release about nine billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere. This is greater than the annual emissions of the United States.

While the Montreal Protocol phased out production of CFCs and HCFCs, no funds were provided to clean up these refrigerants produced before the ban and now at the end of their lifecycle, where 90% of emissions occur.

The Positive Results of Regulation Will Take Time

The Montreal Protocol is also phasing down the production of another greenhouse gas, hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants (HFCs), through the Kigali Amendment. HFCs are also high-impact greenhouse gases used all over the world, but the full impact of this regulation will not be felt until the mid-late 2030s. In the U.S., Congress passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act in December 2020, which gives EPA authority to phase down HFC production and consumption. The bill outlines a phasedown schedule of 85% by 2036. To meet a 1.5° C warming limit, HFC emissions will need to be reduced further than these reductions accomplish.

Despite this progress, we’re still working against time. Atmospheric scientists recently stated that to limit warming to 1.5° C, “there is unprecedented urgency in reducing as quickly as possible not only the original gases targeted by the Protocol but also all ODS (ozone depleting substances) and their substitutes that contribute to global warming.”

Preventing the release of these potent fluorinated refrigerant gases, along with other high-impact gases, will slow warming by 0.6° C by 2050. That’s why Drawdown, the scientific compendium of climate change strategies, ranks increasing the control and elimination of fluorinated refrigerant gases as one of the most important approaches to reduce global warming that we can all work on above and beyond current policy.

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We Have the Tools to Fight Climate Change Together

The science is clear. We have limited time to make a big and lasting difference. And there is one straightforward step that we can take right now that will help: control and destroy high impact greenhouse gases – such as CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs – that will otherwise increase the warming of our planet.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for governments to act. Together, we can make this work happen. Tradewater collects, controls, and destroys fluorinated refrigerant gases so that they do not leak into the atmosphere. Targeting these refrigerants, Tradewater has prevented the release of more than 4,900,000 tons of CO2 equivalent so far. With your help, we can greatly expand collection and destruction efforts all over the world.


Emission reductions are considered permanent if they are not reversible. In some projects, such as forestry or soil preservation, carbon offset credits are issued based upon the volume of CO2 that will be sequestered over future decades—but human actions and natural processes such as forest fires, disease, and soil tillage can disrupt those projects. When that happens, the emission reductions claimed by the project are reversed.

The destruction of halocarbon does not carry this risk. All destruction activities in Tradewater’s projects are conducted pursuant to the Montreal Protocol , which requires “a destruction process” that “results in the permanent transformation, or decomposition of all or a significant portion of such substances.” Specifically, the destruction facilities Tradewater uses must meet or exceed the recommendations of the UN Technology & Economic Assessment Panel , which approves certain technologies to destroy halocarbons, including the requirement that the technology achieve a 99.99% or higher “destruction and removal efficiency.” Simply put, this means that Tradewater’s technologies ensure that over 99.99% of the chemicals are permanently destroyed. During the destruction process, a continuous emission monitoring system is used to ensure full destruction of the ODS collected.


Some carbon offset projects necessarily rely on estimations or assumptions when calculating the emission reductions from project activities. Forestry projects, where developers make assumptions about the carbon that will be sequestered over future decades if trees are conserved, are a perfect example. Such projects sometimes result in an overestimation of the environmental benefit of the project.

Tradewater’s halocarbon projects avoid the issue of overestimation by consistently conducting extremely precise testing and measurement of the amount of refrigerant destroyed in each project.

  • Every container of ODS that Tradewater destroys is weighed by a third-party using regularly calibrated scales. The ODS is then sampled by a third-party and analyzed by an accredited refrigerant laboratory to determine its species and purity. These two steps combine to ensure that credits are issued only for the precise volume and type of refrigerant destroyed.
  • The destruction facilities that Tradewater uses continuously monitor the incineration process during destruction events to ensure that over 99.99% of the ODS is destroyed. This monitoring is mandated by regulatory protocols and is part of the verification process to which projects are subjected.
  • Tradewater accounts for the project emissions created during the collection, transport, and destruction of ODS, and the number of offsets issued is reduced by a corresponding amount. The protocols that we use also build in other reductions to account for substitute chemicals that will be used to replace the destroyed refrigerants. Tradewater publishes this information in the documentation for all its ODS destruction projects. These documents outline how the material was obtained, the project emissions calculations, the test results, and the amount and type of ODS chemicals destroyed, among other information.
  • Additionality

    It is a basic requirement of all carbon offset projects that the underlying project activities are additional. “Additional” means that the projects would not happen in the absence of a carbon market. Tradewater’s halocarbon projects simply would not happen – and the gases would be left to escape into the atmosphere – without the sale of the resulting carbon offset credits. This is because there is no mandate to collect and destroy these gases. It is still permissible to buy, sell, and use halocarbons that were produced before the ban. There are other reasons halocarbon destruction projects are additional:

    • There are no incentives or financial mechanisms to encourage halocarbon destruction. According to the International Energy Agency and United Nations Environment Program, “there is rarely funding nor incentive” to recover and destroy ozone depleting substances in storage tanks and discarded equipment. And collecting, transporting, and destroying halocarbons is time-intensive and expensive. The burden to collect and destroy these gases therefore remains prohibitive outside of carbon offset markets—meaning that if organizations like Tradewater do not do this work, nobody else will.
    • Countries are not focused on the need to collect and destroy halocarbons. The Montreal Protocol has been celebrated as a success because of its production ban. This success, however, ignores the legacy gases produced before the ban and is a blind spot for government regulators. In the U.S., for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a Vintaging Model in the 1990s to estimate the quantify of ozone depleting substances left in circulation. Based on the inputs and assumptions put into the model, the EPA predicted that no CFCs would be available for recovery beyond 2020 in the United States. But this prediction did not prove accurate. Tradewater has collected and destroyed more than 1.5 million pounds of CFCs globally in recent years and continues to identify thousands of pounds per week.
    • International carbon accounting standards do not require corporations to measure or track emissions tied to halocarbons, and refrigerants are specifically excluded from Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) commitments. These commitments derive from emissions reporting under the GHG Protocol, which requires companies to report on emissions only from new generation refrigerants, such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), but does not establish any obligation to report inventories or emissions of refrigerants still in use, such as CFCs and HCFCs. All these factors combine to make Tradewater’s carbon offset projects highly additional. As Giving Green, an initiative of IDinsight, concluded: “Tradewater would not exist without the offset market, so this element of additionality is clearly achieved.” The case for additionality is not so clear for some other project types, such as forestry and landfill gas carbon projects. For example, some forests are already being conserved for their beauty, or for use as parks, and generate carbon offset credits only because those conservation efforts do not yet have full formal protection in place to avoid deforestation in the future. Similarly, methane from landfills can be used to make electricity or captured as compressed natural gas, thereby creating additional revenue streams to support the activities, beyond the sale of carbon credits.