Reduced / Sequestered
Every refrigerator and air conditioner contains chemical refrigerants that absorb and release heat to enable chilling. Refrigerants, specifically CFCs and HCFCs, were once culprits in depleting the ozone layer. Thanks to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, they have been phased out. HFCs, the primary replacement, spare the ozone layer, but have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
In October 2016, officials from more than 170 countries met in Kigali, Rwanda, to negotiate a deal to address this problem. Through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the world will phase out HFCs—starting with high-income countries in 2019, then some low-income countries in 2024 and others in 2028. Substitutes are already on the market, including natural refrigerants such as propane and ammonium.
Scientists estimate the Kigali accord will reduce global warming by nearly one degree Fahrenheit. Still, the bank of HFCs will grow substantially before all countries halt their use. Because 90 percent of refrigerant emissions happen at end of life, effective disposal of those currently in circulation is essential. After being carefully removed and stored, refrigerants can be purified for reuse or transformed into other chemicals that do not cause warming.
Substantial emissions reductions could be achieved through the adoption of practices to (1) avoid leaks from refrigerants and (2) destroy refrigerants at end of life, both after the adoption of alternatives to HFC refrigerants. Over 30 years, an increase of over 79 percent of refrigerants that may be released can be contained, avoiding emissions equivalent to 57.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Although some revenue can be generated from resale of recovered refrigerant gases, the costs to establish and operate recovery, destruction, and leak avoidance, outweigh the financial benefit—meaning that refrigerant management, as modeled, could incur a net cost of US$629.4 billion by 2050.