Environmental aspects

HFCs replaced CFCs and HCFCs

(H)CFCs are ozone depleting substances (ODSs) and have been successfully been phased out under the Montreal Protocol. As a result, the abundance of ODSs in the atmosphere has declined and the ozone layer is expected to recover. CFCs also had higher Global Warming Potentials (GWPs) than the HFCs replacing them. As such, by replacing CFCs by HFCs, the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry and other users not only contributed to the preservation of the ozone layer, but also made the most significant and positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Their reduction would represent about four times the objective of the Kyoto Protocol.
The chart below shows the impact on global emissions of switching from ODSs to HFCs. Values are emissions of CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs calculated from globally averaged atmospheric concentrations9. In 1990, CFCs represented a significant part of global greenhouse gas emissions. Between, 1990 and 2015, a sharp decline is noted thanks to the replacement by industry.

Global emissions of CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs


HFC emissions over the years and future predictions

In the EU, emissions of HFCs grew from 1.0% of the total in 1995 to 1.9 % in 2012 (corresponding to 2.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent / year). This growth in emissions reflects the part played by HFCs in the global conversion of insulation foam blowing, refrigeration and air conditioning away from (H)CFCs. It was offset to some extent by the steps taken by chemical manufacturers to reduce by-product HFC emissions.
In recent years, however, the growth in HFC emissions has slowed in the EU10, a probable consequence of the controls under the 2006 and 2014 F‑Gas legislations. The most recent one, Regulation 517/2014, gradually reduces the quantities of hydrofluorocarbons that can be placed on the market, an effective and cost-efficient way of reducing emissions of HFCs. In addition, there are use bans with end dates for applications when it is expected that low GWP solutions should be readily available. These include use bans for some refrigeration, air-conditioning and foam applications. Also, measures require containment during servicing, maintenance and at end of life. The F-Gas Regulation thus aims at further reducing F-Gas emissions to reach the targeted decrease of approximately 70 Mt of CO2 equivalent by 2030.
Without ceasing its efforts in reducing HFC emissions, EFCTC wishes to put the contribution of F-Gases to overall climate change into perspective. Indeed, there is ample evidence to show that emissions of HFCs have minimal (less than 1%) contribution to climate change at present11. Furthermore, the records show that emissions of HFCs from developed countries have slowed in recent years1213,. More detailed information can be found in the ‘Learn about … The Role of HFCs in Long Term Climate Change’.
When it comes to predicted future HFC emissions, some publications speculate about a runaway greenhouse effect due to the replacement of CFCs and HCFCs by HFCs. This will certainly not apply to Europe, as the F-Gas Regulation, which will reduce HFC emissions to 21% of their current low level by 2030, is now into effect.

Potential Future Contributions from Greenhouse Gases


A global prediction forms part of the Fifth Assessment Report of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The Panel evaluated the climate change impact from the anticipated release of greenhouse gases14.


For all greenhouse gases, the IPCC authors used Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), and one of these (RCP 4.5) is shown in the chart. This scenario envisages rigorous controls on greenhouse gases (particularly CO2 and methane) to limit global temperature rise to about 2.5°C.


The chart below clearly shows that, far from having a runaway climate impact, the effect of the F-Gases will remain constant or will decline over the coming century, both in absolute terms and relative to the other greenhouse gases.


For more detail, please click here.

9The calculation uses the methods described by Rigby & colleagues (2014) with the atmospheric concentrations being measured by AGAGE (https://agage.mit.edu/data/agage-data). Conversion to equivalent tonnes of carbon dioxide used the Global Warming Potentials in IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter08_FINAL.pdf).
10See EFCTC ‘Learn about … The contribution of HFCs to European Greenhouse Gas emissions’
11 Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (www.ipcc.ch)
12 National Inventories of Greenhouse Gases submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (www.unfccc.int)
13 European Environment Agency Technical Reports No 15/2013 and 15/2014 (www.eea.europa.eu)
14 Climate Change 2013, the Physical Science Basis, Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_ALL_FINAL.pdf)