Climate Compass Blog

New commitments to reduce HFCs show leadership

The fastest growing family of greenhouse gases – extremely potent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- aren’t going to be growing as fast in the future.

Today’s White House announcement of voluntary industry commitments to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), along with new regulations put in place over the past year, have created game-changing shifts toward more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Developed as substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the late 1980s, HFCs have become widely used worldwide in refrigerators, air conditioners, foam products, and aerosols. While they don’t contribute to ozone depletion, HFCs can trap 1,000 times or more heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. This means they have a high global warming potential (GWP).

The amount of these compounds produced around the world has been growing at a rate of more than 10 percent per year. Unless controlled, emissions of HFCs could nearly triple in the U.S. by 2030. Strong international action to reduce HFCs could reduce temperature increases by 0.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate change.

The 16 voluntary industry commitments that make up today’s announcement highlight the innovation and leadership U.S. industry is showing in meeting the challenges of addressing climate change. These actions build on 22 commitments made by industry at a White House event just a year ago.

Progress in developing alternatives has been dramatic and is likely to accelerate even more over the next few years. For example:

  • Coca Cola has installed 1.5 million HFC-free cooler units in its global network.
  • Dow Chemical is shifting several of its foam lines to low-GWP alternatives.
  • Mission Pharmacal introduced the first zinc oxide aerosol product using a new low-GWP alternative.
  • Goodman Global Inc. will soon be introducing the first package terminal air-conditioning unit that relies on a low-GWP coolant.
  • Both Chemours (formerly DuPont) and Honeywell have commissioned a number of new plants to ensure adequate quantities of alternatives with lower global warming potential are available to companies worldwide.

As a critical complement to these voluntary industry actions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented a series of new rules over the past year under its Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP). These rules both expanded the range of acceptable low-GWP alternatives and limited the use of high-GWP HFCs where more environmentally friendly alternatives are available.

Today’s announcement also includes a new proposed rule that would extend refrigerant managing practices (e.g., recycling) now required for ozone-depleting substances to HFCs.

Together, these voluntary and regulatory actions demonstrate both the importance of acting and the feasibility of shifting to alternatives. They also help the United States make a strong case to the international community as nations gather the first week in November to discuss phasing down HFCs globally.

Why businesses, states and cities must collaborate on climate

When it comes to dealing with climate and energy challenges, you often get the sense that the right people aren’t talking to one another.

Energy policies at different levels of government aren’t always coordinated. How one business, state or city is reducing greenhouse gases or planning for climate impacts may not be well understood or even known outside its area or industry.

The sustainability director for the city of Philadelphia, Katherine Gajewski, expressed this feeling during a recent C2ES panel discussion, saying there’s almost “no alignment” on climate and energy issues.

We hear you, Katherine. And we agree.

That’s why C2ES is launching a major new initiative – the C2ES Solutions Forum -- to bring together businesses, states, and cities to expand clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthen resilience to climate change impacts.

Over the next two years, these key players will join us in a series of public and private forums around the country to explore critical, cross-cutting issues, develop collaborative approaches, and create a set of practical solutions that we can broadly share.
As we’ve talked to business, state and city leaders across the country, it became clear that a platform for communication and collaboration on climate and energy issues was needed.

State leaders told us they want to hear from businesses about ways to cost-effectively reduce emissions as they work on their Clean Power Plan implementation.

City leaders said they often talk to one another, but not always with states and businesses about efforts to improve energy efficiency or prepare for extreme weather.

Business leaders told us they have ideas for financing clean power and efficiency they’d like to share with cities and states.

After a series of public discussions in Washington and consultation with a broad group of stakeholders, we chose to focus on three principal challenges that would benefit most from closer collaboration:

  • Market Approaches to Reducing Emissions. States have tremendous flexibility to implement the new federal Clean Power Plan. Many are weighing market-based approaches as a cost-effective way to cut emissions, incentivize renewables and efficiency, drive technological innovation, and promote interstate cooperation. We’ve already started exploring questions that need to be addressed.
  • Innovative Climate Finance. Stronger investment in energy infrastructure, clean energy technology, efficiency, and resilience is critical. States and cities are seeking innovative finance mechanisms to leverage limited public dollars to mobilize more private sector investment. C2ES will examine innovative financing mechanisms that can help at workshop early next year in Seattle.
  • Strengthening Resilience. Extreme weather and other climate impacts are already imposing significant costs on companies and communities. Many states, cities and businesses are assessing their climate risks, but not always together. Creating venues for sharing knowledge and resources is essential. Starting with a Nov. 5 workshop in Detroit, C2ES will identify ways to overcome barriers to stronger collaboration on resilience.

The obstacles to progress are real and complex. But solutions do exist.

And, as we heard from Martha Rudolph, Director of Environmental Programs, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: “When ideas and experiences are shared and barriers are addressed collaboratively, success will follow.”

We look forward to sharing insights and recommendations from this initiative in the months ahead, as we work toward a clean energy economy and resilient communities—together.


Brazil Green Fair demonstrates how climate solutions can be scaled

Photo by Amy Morsch

A volunteer from Escola University uses a model home to demonstrate energy-saving tactics at the first Brazilian Alcoa Green Fair in Poços de Caldas.

Seeing is believing, even if it’s a meticulously built model used to illustrate action in real life.

Take the model home Escola University volunteers displayed at a recent Alcoa Green Fair in Poços de Caldas, Brazil. From top to bottom, it demonstrated energy-saving actions in every nook to help visitors see how each small change can save kilowatts -- and money.

Communities can use the same concept to illustrate and communicate what actions will help save energy and reduce climate impacts.

The way we talk about climate and energy issues can either empower people to act or leave them overwhelmed. People won’t necessarily be moved to act just because they know about the challenges. More often, they will be moved because they feel a collective responsibility for a shared problem and understand how they can make a positive impact.

Through the Alcoa Green Fairs, C2ES and the Alcoa Foundation work to drive action on climate and energy issues in a positive and engaging way. Now, Alcoa and C2ES have pushed this successful U.S. program to the international stage. The first-ever fair in Brazil in August attracted 17 organizations and more than 750 people to Alcoa’s Poços de Caldas plant, about four hours north of the capital Sao Paulo, to see demonstrations, learn about resources, and discover new ways to be eco-friendly.

Events like the Alcoa Green Fairs highlight how organizations are stepping up to reduce their impacts, both collectively and one employee at a time. This leadership was evident when Alcoa plant managers, employee champions, the Alcoa Foundation, C2ES, and Sustainable Poços Association (APS) gathered at an early-morning roundtable discussion before the fair.

What would a "legal" agreement in Paris look like?

There is broad acceptance that the new international climate pact due this December in Paris will be a legal agreement. But governments have yet to agree on precisely which elements will be legally binding, an issue that directly affects whether and how the United States and other key countries will become parties.

The Paris negotiations are taking place under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The outcome will likely be a package containing a mix of legal and political outcomes housed in a variety of instruments: the core agreement, related decisions of the Conference of the Parties (COP), and parties’ intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

Under the 2011 Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which launched the negotiations, the Paris conference, known as COP 21, is to produce a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all parties.”

Are businesses prepared for climate impacts?

Increased extreme weather and climate-related impacts are imposing significant costs on communities and companies alike. While some businesses are taking steps to assess and address climate risks, many face internal and external challenges to building climate resilience.

In a new report, Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resiliencereleased at Climate Week NYC, C2ES examined how major global companies are preparing for climate risks, and what is keeping them from doing more.

C2ES reviewed public disclosures of S&P Global 100 companies, conducted in-depth interviews, and held workshops with business leaders, government officials, academics and other stakeholders. Key findings include:

Major companies recognize and report climate risks.

We found 91 of the world’s largest 100 companies see extreme weather and other climate impacts as business risks. Business leaders see climate risks firsthand – in damaged facilities, interrupted power and water supplies, disrupted supply and distribution chains, and impacts on their employees’ lives.

Most (84 companies) discussed climate risk concerns in CDP questionnaires. Fewer companies did so in their sustainability reports (47) or financial filings (40).

More companies are assessing their vulnerabilities.

The vast majority of companies rely on existing risk management or business continuity planning to address climate risks.

Many see climate change as a “threat magnifier” that exacerbates risks they already know and understand. This lens puts climate change into a familiar business context, but companies could overlook or underestimate the threats they face.