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.