May 7, 2021

Opinion: New EPA coolant rule is a no-brainer for addressing the climate crisis

by  Paul West

This article originally appeared on The Hill.

The EPA’s new rule to phase down the manufacturing and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — the coolants used in air conditioners and refrigerators — will likely be a drop in the bucket for consumers but a huge step forward on global climate action. The move is a critical step toward the Biden administration’s larger goal of reducing 55 percent of emissions by 2035. What you might not know: The climate impact of this rule could be more than doubled if it’s coupled with efforts to properly dispose of the refrigerants in the appliances already in people’s homes and businesses.

Project Drawdown, the non-profit where I explore science-based solutions to the climate crisis, ranked switching to alternative refrigerants one of the top 10 climate solutions we have in-hand today. The EPA estimates that phasing down HFCs globally can avoid 0.5 degree Celsius of warming by the end of the century — a large feat with real-world benefits to every community. However, using alternative coolants in new appliances is only half of the potential benefits, as a focus on proper refrigerant disposal is critical to maximizing success.

HFCs became widely used after researchers in the 1970s discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the main refrigerants used at the time, were causing a hole in the ozone layer and leading to more people getting skin cancer as a result. In a 1987 response, nations around the world created The Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to phase out the production and use of ozone-depleting substances like CFCs. Substituting HFCs for CFCs helped heal the ozone layer, but still warmed the planet. Although HFCs and other fluorinated gases cause “only” about 2 percent of Earth’s current warming, each molecule of HFC can trap between 1,000 to 9,000 times more heat than a molecule of CO2. In short, a little bit has a big impact.

The challenge continues to grow. As temperatures warm and more of the world’s population accumulates additional wealth, demand for cooling increases. There are currently 3.6 billion cooling appliances in use today, and that number is increasing at a rate of 10 devices per second. Energy demand for powering these appliances has increased three-fold since 1990 and is projected to double again by 2040.

The good news: Alternative, climate-friendly coolants already exist and the transition to using them is already underway. In 2016, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol created a legally binding agreement to phase down the production and use of HFCs, with developed countries committing to an 85 percent reduction between 2019 and 2036.

Despite the U.S. failing to ratify the amendment, many American manufacturers endorsed it and began phasing out HFCs to stay competitive in the global market. The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM), enacted in December 2020 as part of a COVID-19 relief package, gave the EPA new authority to phase down HFCs in accordance with the Kigali Amendment. The U.S and China indicated in April that they will join the more than 120 nations and island states that have already signed amendment. Meeting target reductions is certainly within reach — the European Union is on track to phase down HFCs by 2030. Changes in the U.S. will accelerate the global shift through our manufacturing and imports of cooling appliances. 

This new EPA rule puts us on a path to reduce damage caused by future appliances. But what about those 3.6 billion cooling devices that are currently in use? Or the countless more that are in salvage yards? Building a cleaner tomorrow is great, but we can’t move forward without taking care of today’s mess.

Coupling the next generation of refrigerants with proper disposal and high-efficiency appliances will further advance climate benefits. In the U.S., 16 million refrigerators, freezers, window air conditioners and dehumidifiers are thrown out each year, yet only a little more than 600,000 were properly discarded through the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program.

Project Drawdown estimates that removing or destroying the coolants in these appliances could more than double the impact of using alternative coolants in new appliances. Groups like Tradewater show that a market can be created for eliminating (by collecting and incinerating) the emissions in discarded appliances.

Further, additional gains are possible by incentivizing high efficiency air conditioners. High-efficiency appliances are available today and there are promising new options in the near future. The Global Cooling Prize recently awarded two residential-scale air conditioner prototypes that offer five times lower impact than the standard ones used today.

This policy change will make it easier for people to purchase appliances that use alternative coolants. One of the best things we as individuals can do to further reduce our energy used for cooling is to purchase Energy Star-rated appliances, using smart thermostats and insulating our homes. This carries a cost not every renter or homeowner can bear, but it’s important to keep in mind when changes can be made. Perhaps most important, proper disposal of old cooling appliances through the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) Program will ensure that HFCs are captured or destroyed and don’t leak into the atmosphere.

Although systemic and equitable change is needed across all sectors to address the climate crisis, targeted policies like this one are necessary and will have an immediate, outsized impact. Destroying existing HFCs — the current mess we can’t avoid — and using more efficient appliances will transform this rule from good to great in a moment where big climate wins deserve fast action.

Paul West, Ph.D., is an ecologist exploring science-based solutions to help people and nature thrive on a warming planet. He is the director of Special Projects at Project Drawdown and a researcher at the University of Minnesota. Follow him on Twitter: @coolfireecology.

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June 22, 2022
Climate-Poverty Connections Webinars
Key takeaways from Drawdown Lift’s Climate–Poverty Connections webinar series
by Carissa Patrone Maikuri
Drawdown Lift recently hosted a two-part webinar series in which 10 global experts explored how technologies and practices that mitigate climate change can contribute to boosting human well-being and alleviating poverty as evidenced in the Climate–Poverty Connections report. Check out these key takeaways:​​​ 28 of Project Drawdown’s currently available, financially viable climate solutions not only have proven potential to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but also provide clear co-benefits for human well-being for rural and underserved communities in Africa and South Asia.  This means we have a remarkable opportunity to align strategies, funding, and policies to simultaneously reduce climate threats, alleviate poverty, and boost human well-being.  Investments in low-carbon development must prioritize countries that are first and worst impacted by climate change—particularly low- and middle-income countries.  Human well-being co-benefits from the 28 Project Drawdown climate solutions are particularly strong in the dimensions of Income and Work, Health, Food, Education, Gender Equality, and Energy.  World Bank economists estimate that Improving Agriculture and Agroforestry is 11 times more effective at reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa than investments in other sectors.  Providing Clean Electricity is crucial to improving human well-being: People who live in communities with limited access to electricity also tend to experience high food insecurity, lack access to improved water and sanitation, lack access to income and work, and endure disproportionate health burdens.  Adopting Clean Cooking could prevent more than 22.5 million premature deaths between 2000 and 2100.  Women’s and Indigenous peoples’ secure land tenure are imperative when Protecting and Restoring Ecosystems; more than 1 billion people experiencing extreme poverty depend on forests to meet their basic needs for housing, water, and fuel, as well as their primary source of income.    Fostering Equality, which includes Project Drawdown’s Family Planning and Education solution, encompasses rights-based, voluntary family planning and high-quality education, yields co-benefits for all 12 dimensions in the Drawdown Lift Human Well-being Index, more than any of the other five climate solutions groups analyzed in Drawdown Lift’s new Climate–Poverty Connections report. Family planning—ensuring everyone’s contraceptive needs are met in a way that centers rights and bodily autonomy—is not in itself a climate mitigation strategy. Rather, one outcome of family planning, slower population growth, is a climate solution.     In part one of the webinar series, global experts in climate-smart development, environmental health, clean energy, and natural resource management discussed how climate solutions focused on Improving Agriculture and Agroforestry, Providing Clean Electricity, and Adopting Clean Cooking can contribute to improving human well-being and alleviating poverty and yield substantial socioeconomic, health, equity, and environmental gains. Presenter: Yusuf Jameel, Research Manager, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown  Moderator: Yolande Wright, Global Director Child Poverty, Climate and Urban, Save the Children Host: Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown  Panelists: Jill Baumgartner, Associate Professor, Institute for Health And Social Policy & Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, McGill University  Ademola Braimoh, Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist, Agriculture Global Practice, World Bank  Glory Oguegbu, Founder & CEO, Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute (RETTI) and Climate Smart Nigeria Interpreters: Sabrine Bayar and Manel Khammouma     In part two of the webinar series, global experts in cross-sectoral conservation and health initiatives, climate adaptation, girls’ education, and environmental conservation spoke to how climate solutions that Protect and Restore Ecosystems and Foster Equality can contribute to positive socioeconomic, health, equity, and environmental outcomes. Presenter: Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown  Moderator: Cheryl Margoluis, Executive Director, CARE-WWF Alliance    Host:  Carissa Patrone Maikuri, Program Coordinator, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown Panelists: Tapas Ranjan Chakraborty, Senior Programme Manager-Climate Change Programme, BRAC- Bangladesh  Portia Kuffuor, Enterprise Development Manager, CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education)  Alice Macharia, Vice-President of Africa Programs, the Jane Goodall Institute   Interpreters: Sabrine Bayar and Manel Khammouma
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March 31, 2022
New Drawdown Lift report: Advancing climate solutions can help alleviate extreme poverty
Addressing climate change and improving the well-being of millions of people experiencing extreme poverty—two grand challenges of the 21st century—can be done together and create critical co-benefits for socially disadvantaged groups in rural areas of low- and middle-income countries, according to a new landmark report released today by Drawdown Lift, a program of the global nonprofit Project Drawdown.  The report, titled Climate–Poverty Connections: Opportunities for synergistic solutions at the intersection of planetary and human well-being, focuses specifically on climate solutions and poverty alleviation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia—two areas of the world most at risk from the threats of climate change. This first-of-its-kind analysis reveals many ways in which specific technologies and practices that offer proven, substantial benefits for addressing climate change also improve multiple aspects of human well-being—particularly people’s livelihoods, health, food security, education, gender equality, and more. Widespread implementation of these solutions would be transformational in alleviating poverty and increasing resilience to current and future climate change. According to a World Bank report, in the next decade, climate change could push an additional 100 million people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries, setting back decades of progress in poverty alleviation—a situation the pandemic has made even more dire. "We have an opportunity to elevate climate solutions that also boost human well-being and contribute to much-needed socioeconomic development,” said Kristen P. Patterson, director of Drawdown Lift. “Populations experiencing extreme poverty did not cause the climate crisis. It is incumbent upon decisionmakers to strategically invest in climate solutions that help usher in equity and prosperity, and achieve the SDGs.” The report guides leaders and stakeholders—including international and country-level climate and development policymakers, the climate finance community, donors, and NGOs—toward the dual goals of investing in low-carbon development pathways and reducing poverty. "In developing countries globally, efforts to promote climate action will undoubtedly be intertwined with aspirations for economic growth. This report sheds light on policy options and approaches for harnessing this opportunity to deliver human well-being benefits in the race to net-zero," said Mohamed Imam Bakarr, senior environmental specialist at Global Environment Facility and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. The report, which builds on Project Drawdown’s groundbreaking climate solutions research, draws on a review of 450 articles and reports (through 2021) to synthesize the evidence of how climate interventions that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions can also generate substantial co-benefits for human well-being. It was reviewed by a dozen experts in agriculture, gender, international development, education, conservation, climate, health, and other areas. The report’s findings have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people around the world—particularly girls and women—if the recommendations are implemented. "If you’re telling a rural woman to cease using dirty fuels for cooking, know that poverty is the reason she is using them. Climate solutions must be holistic to ensure sustainability. This report presents strategies for solving the climate challenge that address intertwined human needs," said Glory Oguegbu, founder and CEO of the Renewable Energy Technology Training Institute and a Drawdown Lift Advisory Council member. Downloads Download the full report | Download the abbreviated fact sheet Media Contacts Todd Reubold, Director of Marketing and Communications, Project Drawdown Kristen P. Patterson, Director, Drawdown Lift, Project Drawdown About Drawdown Lift Launched in early 2021, Drawdown Lift works to deepen collective understanding of the links between climate change solutions and poverty alleviation, particularly in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The Lift team seeks to help address both extreme poverty and climate change by collaboratively identifying, promoting, and advancing solutions designed to catalyze positive, equitable change. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. Project Drawdown aims to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
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March 15, 2022
Project Drawdown launches “Drawdown’s Neighborhood”
Across the United States, individuals are working each and every day to reduce the threat of climate change in their cities and communities. Drawdown Stories, a new initiative of Project Drawdown, aims to showcase their work and inspire others by passing the mic to the climate problem-solvers whose voices and stories often go unheard. Launching today, Drawdown’s Neighborhood is a new short documentary series featuring the stories of climate solutions heroes, city-by-city. The series is rooted in the guiding principle of “Climate Solutions in Color,” Project Drawdown’s commitment to “pass the mic” to the climate stories that often go unheard. The first season features individuals, most of whom are from underrepresented groups, mobilizing electric vehicle fleets, retrofitting buildings, and advancing other climate solutions in Pittsburgh, a city with a deep history in coal and steel. In the spirit of Pittsburgh native Mister Rogers, this series showcases the diverse “neighborhood” of people working to help the world reach drawdown, the future point when greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere start to steadily decline. Drawdown’s Neighborhood: Pittsburgh features 11 stories of how people from all over the city are mobilizing to fuel a green future—leveraging Pittsburgh’s innovative spirit for much-needed change. The stories center the voices of women, Black people, people of color, immigrants, and others who are often not represented in the climate dialogue and yet are commonly most immediately and severely vulnerable to the impacts of climate catastrophe.The series features: Clara Kitongo, Program Coordinator at Tree Pittsburgh Sarah Olexsak, Manager of Transportation Electrification at Duquesne Light Company Erica Cochran Hameen, Assistant Professor & Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture Richard Tumushime, Head Electrician at Energy Independent Solutions Angie Martinez, Senior Right-of-Way Manager at the City of Pittsburgh Tom Mulholland, Senior Project Manager at Grounded Strategies Brandon Walton, Fleet Manager with the City of Pittsburgh Alexis Cromer, Food Operations Director at 412 Food Rescue Paige Anderson, Project Manager at the City of Pittsburgh, Department of Mobility and Infrastructure Shawn Taylor, Crew Leader at Landforce Veni Mittal, Former Energy Audits Associate at Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh; Community Service Chair at the Green Building Alliance Drawdown’s Neighborhood is hosted by Matt Scott, manager of storytelling and engagement at Project Drawdown. Scott is also the creator and host of Let’s Care, where he has interviewed and learned from 100+ unlikely or underrepresented changemakers since 2017. “I want people to see themselves and their power. As a young, Black, queer person who’s also a storyteller, I’ve been acutely aware of how the climate conversation traditionally hasn’t centered underrepresented voices,” said Scott. “This is not only a problem because Black communities, Indigenous communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but also because these communities are the most underutilized in surfacing solutions. Representation matters everywhere, including the climate space, and if we want to tap into our full power to address climate change, we need to center those whose power has often been underrepresented and underestimated.” In addition to the featured videos, the Drawdown’s Neighborhood site includes discussion prompts to engage classrooms or communities in dialogue around each episode. And there are resource links to help individuals and others take action to address climate change. Future Drawdown’s Neighborhood cities will be announced later this year. To learn more and stay up to date, please visit drawdown.org/neighborhood. About Drawdown Stories Drawdown Stories identifies and produces multimedia stories as a bridge between the science-based solutions of Project Drawdown and the people looking for their own roles in the climate solutions space. This work provides an entry point for a diverse range of people through tangible examples of climate solutions being implemented today. Our work showcases the various people in climate careers that help make drawdown possible. The guiding principle of Drawdown Stories is “Climate Solutions in Color.” Through Climate Solutions in Color, we work to “pass the mic” to the climate heroes who often go unheard. About Project Drawdown Project Drawdown is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help the world reach “drawdown”—the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline. Cities, universities, corporations, philanthropies, policymakers, communities, educators, activists, and more turn to Project Drawdown as they look to advance effective climate action. We aim to support the growing constellation of efforts to move climate solutions forward and move the world toward drawdown—as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.
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