New Report: Curbing 90 Billion Tons of Super-Pollutant Emissions Aids Climate Fight

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Minimizing refrigerant leaks and maximizing end-of-life recovery and reclamation can avoid fluorocarbon emissions equivalent to 90 billion metric tons of CO2 this century and help avoid climate catastrophe, according to a new report released today by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).

The report, The 90 Billion Ton Opportunity: Lifecycle Refrigerant Management, lays out this significant opportunity for federal and state policymakers, major corporations, and equipment owners and operators. Embracing Lifecycle Refrigerant Management can prevent fluorocarbon emissions equal to nearly three full years of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions today.

We humans have manufactured these potent pollutants that are being needlessly released when we have both the know-how and a huge value proposition for industry and the public to capture them,” said Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst from the Environmental Investigation Agency, and a co-author of the report. “The science clearly tells us we need faster and deeper HFC emission reductions to avoid dangerous climate tipping points and remain below 1.5°C of warming, and this is a very real opportunity to get them.”

Refrigerant releases are an invisible climate culprit. Lifecycle refrigerant management provides clear and tangible interventions that can prevent the release of billions of tons of CO2e emissions across the refrigerant value chain to help us stave off the worst impacts of climate change.” said Christina Theodoridi, Industrial Policy Advocate for NRDC and co-author of the report.

Even as the world moves to climate-friendlier refrigerant gases under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a huge and still-growing legacy of old, climate- and ozone-damaging gases continues to amass in nearly every nook and cranny of the world. The report outlines ways to get those fluorocarbon gases back into tanks and properly reused or disposed of. In the U.S., the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act – the legislation that phases down HFCs by 85 percent over the next 15 years – contains new provisions yet to be implemented regarding just that.

The AIM Act grants EPA the authority to minimize leaks and maximize recovery, reclaim, and destruction. This makes a wide range of options available at the federal level to make lifecycle refrigerant management a climate policy priority,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

Many in industry agree that reducing wasteful refrigerant leaks and increasing the amount of refrigerant reclaimed is a worthy goal. “Increasing refrigerant reclamation is a win-win for businesses and the environment,” says Bruce Ernst from A-gas, a refrigerant reclaimer who was also a technical advisor to the report’s authors.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week released a Notice of Data Availability requesting public feedback on current fluorocarbon recovery and reclamation practices, marking the start of national policymaking in this important area. EPA also released today a proposed rule extending its HFC allowance allocation framework, which is responsible for administering the phasedown of virgin HFC supply, to the years 2024-2029.

The full report is available at: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/90-billion-ton-opportunity-lifecycle-refrigerant-management.