Surprise Rise in Ocean Acidity

coral-reef-ocean-acidity-carbon-dioxide-riseThe extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that contributes to global warming doesn’t just mean trouble for land inhabitants; the ocean is growing more and more acidic due the excess carbon dioxide floating around. The ocean has absorbed the extra carbon dioxide, which has surprised and concerned scientists.

The coral reef is most ocean life threatened by the rising acid levels and what has been described as a sort of “osteoporosis” is causing the reef to die (resulting in a white bleached coloring). High levels of ocean acidity hinder and sometimes prevent the formation of coral skeletons. The reef is a strong entity, but the skeletal thinning will cause severe deterioration. Coral reefs are also the producers of seashells. The death of the reed, particularly in Australia, threatens a variety of sectors including tourism and food security.

This surprising new revelation has provoked a lot of concern because of the serious consequences it has on the ocean and ocean life. Climate change in general has devastating consequences, but this new factor is considered unprecedented as well as unexpected. Scientists initially expected that the carbon dioxide being absorbed by the water would dilute as shallow and deep waters mixed together. Unfortunately for the reef, the carbon dioxide is settling in the shallow waters, making them much more acidic than usual.

Oyster populations will suffer because high ocean acidity causes their shell growth to be stunted. A study showed high ocean acidity levels also affect clown fish. An experiment was performed in which high acidity levels were replicated, in particular the levels that are expected by the end of this century. Clown fish began swimming towards their predators instead of away from them because the high levels of acidity caused a dulling in their sense of smell. Like clown fish, salmon also depend on using their sense of smell to locate their natal breeding grounds, and it’s a very real possibility that if their smell was impaired they could no longer do so.

The changing chemistry of oceans affects a lot of behavior, much of which is still being studied. The continuance of more severe weather could be exacerbated by a rise in ocean acidity, as the reefs protect coastlines from tsunamis. Thankfully, a reduction in carbon emissions could help lower the acidity. The more people pollute the harder it becomes to solve the problem. Without serious concern about the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and their reduction more and more problems will arise. Some instruments are currently in place to help oyster farmers reduce the level of exposure to ocean water. The tools measure the changes in acidity as they can monitor they flow of water to hatcheries.

Long-term solutions need to be implemented. The carbon emissions that are currently in the atmosphere will continue to be absorbed for the next several decades and it will be a long time before the ocean could return to normal levels. The Environmental Protection Agency provides many ways that you can personally help reduce your emissions at home, at school, and at work.

Oceana has started a petition specifically geared at reducing green house gas emissions in order to lower ocean acidification. To sign click here. You will be preventing a mass extinction of coral reefs by reducing your carbon dioxide emissions and by supporting Oceana and its efforts to get the Congress to act on behalf of the oceans and support legislation that backs alternative energy and the reduction of the use of fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases. Otherwise, as is the case with all matters that pertain to global warming, the events that follow will be catastrophic and irreversible.

Photo credit: noaa.gov/features/climate/images/fig1_reef_fullsize.jpg

Action Needed for New World Record

A new world record has been set.  Unfortunately it isn’t the kind you’d delight in reading about in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Sadly, it has to do with the amount of energy-related carbon emissions the people of this Earth are producing and how we’re moving further and further away from an agreed upon 2°C goal. 

What is the world record you ask?  In 2010, the world released an astonishing and record high 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 emissions.  That’s a 5% increase from 2008 when levels were sitting at 29.3 Gt.  As a side note, levels dropped in 2009, but experts believe this was due to the worldwide economic crisis.

For those who don’t know, the 2°C goal discussed earlier was an agreed upon marker set by participating countries at the climate change talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and then revisited in Cancun in 2010.  The idea was that the leaders of the major countries around the world would work together to limit the world’s global temperature increase to only 2°C, therefore putting everyone to work to limit the release of greenhouse gases and to make every major country accountable for the results. 

The problem is that since the record levels of carbon emissions that we reached in 2010 and 2008, we are basically setting ourselves up for failure.  Essentially, based on guidelines set out by the IEA (International Energy Agency) and other energy experts, global energy related emissions should not grow by more than 32 Gt by 2020.  In other words, emissions cannot increase more than they did in 2009 and 2010 which lays out extensive, and some feel unattainable, work for the leaders of countries around the world.

What makes this a crisis is the grave reality of the guidelines set forth.  The 2°C goal is not one that has a safe amount of cushy padding on it so that if we don’t reach it or are a little off, the earth will still be OK.  It won’t be.  In fact, scientists argue that 2°C is the “threshold for potentially ‘dangerous climate change’” and that if the temperature increases by anymore than that we will put millions of people and animals in real and serious danger.  That’s not all.  If emissions levels continue to rise at the rate they did last year, the recommended 32 Gt limit will be ahead of schedule nine years in excess which makes it nearly, if not actually impossible to do anything about the damage caused by that acceleration. 

The above paints a pretty grim picture.  It’s scary to think that despite the United States’ best intentions (although some would argue that point, that’s another article), other countries doing their part and one of the worst recessions in the history of the world we are still exceeding any healthy and reachable goals of global emissions.  The good news is that there are things that can be done.  We aren’t facing the tunnel of doom with nowhere to turn but action is required and the faster and more effort put forth, the better.

For one, countries like the US and China, two of the biggest emissions producers, need to come to agreement and make a pledge to reduce their emissions especially in regards to global agreements like The Kyoto Protocol.  Agreeing to contracts like Kyoto helps to bring everyone together and since global warming is a problem that will without fail affect each and every individual currently inhabiting the earth, everyone and every country needs to be held accountable. 

Another idea proposed by government and environmental officials is in complete opposition to the above.  They suggest that since major countries like the US and China have so far been reluctant to join in on guidelines laid out by treaties like The Kyoto Protocol, each country should put forward what they are willing and able to do and everyone will work from there.  What some consider a more realistic approach, the idea is that since what we have been doing has not worked and continues to cause conflict, it’s best to try a new attack.  The hope is that countries won’t feel like they’re being pushed into something unrealistic and therefore being forced to make abstract promises they can’t keep but instead will allow countries to do what they’re capable of and eliminate the tension and halt in action that previous treaties have caused. 

A third idea is that specific industries are targeted as opposed to entire countries.  Of course each country would still have to take responsibility for the various industries it supports, but the idea of just decreasing overall emissions wouldn’t be so overwhelming.  It is kind of like a baby-step approach to tackling the larger problem.  If each industry takes responsibility for its own actions then together they will decrease emissions as a collective effort. 

Lastly, there are many things YOU can still do.  It may feel futile at times to be just one person making moves to better the big world out there but there’s nothing truer than the statement ‘every little bit helps’.  For one, get in on the action.  Write to your local representative and tell her how important this issue is, not only to you, but for her too and the entire world.  Second, reduce what you can’t eliminate completely.  Sites like carbonfund.org help both individuals and organizations reduce their carbon footprint by giving them the option of purchasing carbon offsets, planting trees or make a donation to organizations heavily involved in carbon reduction programs.  Join sites like stopglobalwarming.org and become part of an online community dedicated to efforts just as you are.  Lastly, get loud!  Tell everyone about the actions you’ve taken to tackle this problem.  Blog, Tweet and Facebook about all of your initiatives and get everyone on board.  If the people talk loud enough, those with power will listen. 

Photo credit: flic.kr/p/66GKxF   

Carbon Capture Project Halted By American Electric Power Company

A project started by American Electric Power Company, intended to capture and store carbon dioxide, has been put on hold indefinitely. In a statement, the company said the reason for putting the project on hold had to do with the poor economy and the uncertainty of U.S. climate policy.

American Electric Power Company is based in Columbus, Ohio, and is one of the nation’s largest providers of electricity. The company has 80 power plants in 11 states and currently serves 5.2 million customers. The company’s original plan was to be a part of a project that would capture and store carbon dioxide emitted by the plant every year. AEP had partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy to capture and store carbon dioxide emitted by a coal energy plant in West Virginia.

The project was originally supposed to take place at the coal-powered Mountaineer power plant in New Haven, West Virginia. Energy produced by coal currently accounts for half of the electricity used in the U.S. and is responsible for 34% of greenhouse gas emissions. The project was expected to begin operation in 2015 and would have captured an estimated 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted from the plant every year. After capturing the carbon dioxide, the emissions would have been stored approximately 1.5 miles below the surface. The technology used to remove carbon dioxide emissions would have siphoned away at least half of the power generated by the power plant.

Michael G. Morris, the chairman and chief executive of AEP, announced that the project is “on hold until economic and policy conditions create a viable path forward.” Business at AEP has been slow recently due to a low demand for electricity. Because of the lower demand, prices for electricity has also been low, as well as prices for natural gas. Subsequently, AEP has not been able to receive a profit on new generating plants. There is no definite answer about the price of carbon capture and storage, but it will undoubtedly be extremely expensive. Because of the high costs, especially in an unstable and weak economy, the company was forced to abandon the project before it was completed.

AEP has been a part of a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy for the last two years. The company received $334 million from the Department of Energy to fund the project to capture and store carbon. Now that the project has been halted, AEP will no longer be part of the agreement. The first part of the project, which would include the development of an environmental impact statement, is expected to be completed before the project is completely terminated. The first part of the project is estimated to cost $16 million.

When the project was initially started, it appeared that the U.S. was on its way to limiting the amount of carbon emissions that power companies could legally emit. If that had been the case, the carbon capture and storage project would have been valuable and necessary for AEP. Instead, efforts in Congress to limit carbon dioxide emissions failed last summer when Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives.

Even though the government has not yet enacted limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power companies, it’s possible that CO2 regulations will be enacted in the future. The Environmental Protection Agency has been given permission by the Supreme Court to put limits on greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Legislation to regulate and limit greenhouse gas emissions is expected to be proposed by the EPA later this year. Until then, the benefits of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, should continue to be utilized in order to create more sustainable energy usage in the U.S.

Photo Credit: ci.salem.va.us/depts/electric/images/cookdr.jpg

UK Study Shows Cities Have Ability To Absorb CO2

A recently released study conducted in the UK suggests that cities have the ability to absorb 10 times more carbon dioxide than previously expected.

The study was conducted due to “a need for reliable data to help establish and underpin realistic carbon emission targets and reduction trajectories, along with acceptable and robust policies for meeting these goals.”

Urban areas do not currently make up a large portion of the earth’s surface, but it is still important to study the effect they have on global warming. Only approximately four percent of the earth’s surface is urbanized, but the number is expected to increase as the population rises from a current seven billion this year to 9.5 billion by the middle of the century. Scientists have long known that forests have the ability to soak up carbon dioxide due to photosynthesis, but urban areas have never been thought to be “sinks,” or areas that can absorb CO2. The study points out that the capacity of urban areas to absorb carbon dioxide has never been thoroughly studied because of “the perception that urban ecosystems have limited ecological value because they are heavily modified by humans and relatively small in size.” The study sought to dispel this myth due to increasing rates of urbanization.

The study, which was conducted by British scientists in the English city of Leicester, measured the ability of the city’s parks, fields, and other green areas to absorb CO2. Leicester, which has a population of 300,000 living in 28 square miles, was found to be able to absorb 231,000 tons of carbon dioxide, which is 10 times more than previously thought. The amount of carbon dioxide the city can absorb is equivalent to the yearly emissions of 150,000 sedans. A “vegetation survey” was conducted prior to the study, which recorded the types of vegetation in the city (i.e., herbaceous vegetation, shrubs, gardens) and whether they were publicly or privately owned. This helped the researchers determine the carbon dioxide absorbing capabilities of the city. The study also took into account the amount of trees and their density, which helped calculate their biomass and carbon storage abilities.

The study points out that urban “sinks,” while not a solution to global warming, do have the ability to minimize the impacts. Urban sinks are especially effective if the city has a large number of trees, which soak up more carbon dioxide than grass and shrubs. In Leicester, most of the publicly-owned land consists of lawns. The study points out that if 10% of the lawns are planted with trees, the capacity of the city to store carbon will rise by 12%. Trees provide numerous benefits to urban areas; in addition to storing carbon dioxide, they also provide shade while lowering temperatures.

The study encourages governments to protect carbon storage and lists the numerous benefits, including climate regulation, reduction of air and water pollution, decreasing surface water runoff, creating recreational opportunities, improving human health, and providing a habitat for various species. By improving upon urban areas, the effects of global warming can be minimized, which provides benefits both for the human and animal populations as well as the environment they live in.

The study coincides with the UK’s recent promise to cut carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050. The study’s authors point out that “local governments are central to national efforts to cut carbon emissions, although the reductions required at city-wide levels are yet to be set.” If local governments in the UK heed the results of this study, it will be possible to absorb CO2 simply by planting more trees, helping the government meet its goal of drastic carbon emission reductions. In a world that is becoming increasingly urbanized, this most recent news is a small glimmer of hope that it is still possible to minimize the impacts of global warming, even with a rapidly growing population.

Photo Credit: health.utah.gov/enviroepi/activities/EPHTP/TrackingStates/new_york_city.jpg

Are Biodegradable Products Doing More Harm Than Good?

You are a responsible, environmentally conscious consumer.  So when you walk into the sidewalk cafe that just opened down the street and see that your tasty to-go order is packed in a biodegradable container, your heart smiles and you decide you’ll become a regular.  And after enjoying said tasty meal, you place your biodegradable container in the garbage and revel in the satisfaction that while your waste is landfill-bound, it will not be there for long.  After all, isn’t that what makes biodegradable products so eco-friendly?  They decompose quickly and that is good for the environment, right?

According to a new study released by North Carolina State University, maybe not.  The study, entitled “Is Biodegradability a Desirable Attribute for Discarded Solid Waste?  Perspectives from a National Landfill Greenhouse Gas Inventory Model” was conducted by Dr. Morton Barlaz and James Levis and was published by Environmental Science and Technology.

The results of the study reveal the simple fact that, under present conditions, because biodegradable materials decompose so quickly they may actually be harming the environment.  This was, of course, supposed to be the great benefit of biodegradable materials.  Unlike other plastics, papers, etc, biodegradable materials were developed to take up space in a landfill for only a very short amount of time.  According to the EPA, in 2008 135 million metric tons of trash were dumped into landfills in the United States.  America is currently home to well over 3000 active landfills and finding new places to discard our waste is becoming increasingly difficult.  The assumption has, up until this point, been that biodegradable materials would help to ease our need for new landfills.

So what is happening to biodegradable waste once it reaches the landfills that makes it harmful to the environment?  During decomposition, biodegradable materials release methane.  Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas- though it is not as prevalent as carbon dioxide, it does more damage.  However, methane can also be harnessed and burned for fuel and it burns much cleaner than many other natural gasses.  In the United States, approximately 35% of landfills capture methane onsite and use it for energy, while another 34% of landfills capture the methane and burn it offsite.  The problem is that current government regulations do not require land fill operators to harvest methane for energy until two years after the trash has been discarded.  When you combine that with the Federal Trade Commission’s requirement that biodegradable products must decompose within a “reasonably short period of time” the result is that too much methane is being released into the atmosphere.  By the time methane capturing techniques are put in place in a landfill, the biodegradable materials have already decomposed significantly.

Fortunately, the problem is fixable.  Manufacturers of biodegradable materials could develop and produce materials that decompose more slowly.  These products would still decompose faster than conventional products, thus reducing the volume of our landfills, but slow enough that most of the resulting methane could be captured.  Alternatively, the government could alter existing regulations.  If landfills were required to harvest methane immediately after burying trash, no methane would be left to waft into the atmosphere.

Photo credit: stlouiscountymn.gov/GOVERNMENT/Licensing/GarbageHaulerLicenses.aspx

Global Carbon Emissions Hit Record High in 2010

Energy-related carbon emissions hit a record high in 2010, the International Energy Agency (IEA) announced Monday. 

Global levels climbed to 30.6 Gigatonnes (Gt), marking a five per cent rise over the previous record high of 29.3 Gt in 2008, despite a dip in 2009 emissions due to the economic recession. 

The energy watchdog considers the rise “a serious setback,” given the goal set by OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) country leaders last year of limiting the average global temperature to an increase of two degrees Celsius by 2020. 

In order to reach that target, carbon dioxide emissions should not exceed 32 Gt annually.  Given the rate of increase between 2008 and 2010, however, the 32 Gt limit will be reached within months, reported Al Jazeera

Chief economist for the IEA Fatih Birol said, “Our latest estimates are another wake-up call. The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the two degree Celsius target is to be attained.”

The IEA also said that 80 per cent of projected emissions from the power sector in 2020 are already “locked in” by outputs from existing power plants and those under construction.

Birol added, “Unless bold and decisive decisions are made very soon, it will be extremely challenging to succeed in achieving this global goal agreed [upon last year].” 

The goal was set in 2010 at the UN climate change talks in Cancun by leaders from OECD countries. 

Although emissions from OECD countries are up as well, much of the global rise of carbon levels is attributed to the growth of China and India. 

As The Economic Times explains, “Region by region, the IEA estimated that 40% of global emissions came from 34-member OECD countries in 2010, while non-OECD emerging economies saw stronger increase in the emission as their economic growth accelerated.”  

Per capita, OECD countries have an emission rate of 10 tons per year.  China emits more than 5.8 tons per capita, and India now emits 1.5 tons annually per capita. 

Forty-four per cent of CO2 emissions worldwide last year originated from coal, 36 per cent came from oil and 20 per cent from natural gas. 

Scientists and campaigners warn that unless governments worldwide are able to reduce carbon outputs rather than allow them to continue to rise, the effects of climate change will intensify. 

Examples of such effects include the death of most coral worldwide with a one degree Celsius rise in average temperatures.  With a two degree rise, coastal flooding will affect 10 million more people. 

At a temperature three degrees warmer, deserts will take over parts of the U.S., Australia, and South Africa. 

If the world witnesses a four degree rise in average temperatures, ice covering the Arctic will melt completely and sea levels will rise by five meters. 

Phil Thornhill of the Campaign Against Climate Change told Al Jazeera, “We should be more than anxious, we should be terrified actually.” 

With swift, decisive action by governments, scientists say the world may still be able to avert disaster, but the window of opportunity for consequential action is closing quickly. 

Photo credit:  search.creativecommons.org/?q=carbon+emissions&sourceid=Mozilla-search#

Arctic Ozone Levels Experience Record Loss

According to the United Nations Weather Agency, the ozone layer covering the Arctic has thinned by 40 percent this past winter. This sets a new record for ozone layer loss; previous seasonal loss has only been approximately 30 percent. According to Bryan Johnson, an atmospheric chemist who works in the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Laboratory, the drop in ozone layer is “sudden and unusual.” Johnson went on to say that despite the ozone layer’s ability to regenerate itself, a consistently large drop in ozone levels could mean “a trending downward of the atmospheric ozone layer.” Observations from the ground and from balloons over the Arctic, in addition to satellites, have all indicated that the ozone layer has suffered a dramatic loss from the beginning of winter to late March.

The atmosphere’s ozone layer is located in the stratosphere. The stratosphere is the second layer of the atmosphere and accounts for approximately 90% of the ozone in the atmosphere. The stratosphere starts at an altitude of about 10 kilometers and reaches to about 50 kilometers altitude.The ozone layer is responsible for absorbing ultraviolet light, protecting life on Earth from harmful UV radiation from the sun.

Several factors have contributed to the loss in the ozone layer’s atmospheric layer. The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization has pointed to a combination of cold temperatures in the stratosphere and the contribution of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from humans. Michel Jerraud, the secretary general of the U.N. Weather Agency, pointed out that despite the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer over the Arctic “continues to be vulnerable to ozone destruction caused by ozone-depleting substances linked to human activities,” such as aerosol sprays and refrigerators.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol called for the world’s countries to reduce the amount of CFCs used in the manufacturing of air conditioning, aerosol sprays, and other products. Because CFCs have long lifetimes in the atmosphere, though, it will take decades for the ozone layer to return to the levels it experienced before 1980. Estimates for the return to pre-1980 levels in the polar region are projected to occur between 2030 and 2040. The World Meteorological Organization has acknowledged that “without the Montreal Protocol, this year’s ozone destruction would most likely have been worse.” Had the Montreal Protocol not been adopted, two-thirds of the world’s ozone layer would be gone within the next fifty years. Global temperatures would also have risen several degrees due to CFCs.

The cold temperatures degraded the ozone layer by allowing iridescent ice clouds to form over the polar region when the temperature falls below -108 degrees Fahrenheit. When rays from the sun make contact with an icy surface, ozone-eating reactions in chlorine and bromine are triggered. These elements are present from the production of CFCs, which are commonly found in refrigerants and flame retardants in household supplies. Despite the unusually cold temperatures in the stratosphere over the Arctic this year, ground temperatures were significantly warmer this winter.

Ozone levels in the Arctic region vary more than those near the South Pole due to the fact that temperatures are always warmer in the Arctic. The fluctuation in temperatures and seasonal conditions greatly influence the ozone levels; there have been years where there is almost no ozone loss, and other years, including 2011, where cold stratospheric temperatures contribute to significant depletion of ozone levels. Officials from the United Nations have said that the ozone loss was “unprecedented, but not entirely unexpected.”

As of late March, the thinning ozone has begun to move away from the pole and headed towards Greenland and Scandinavia. Because sunlight further contributes to ozone loss, Johnson has recommended inhabitants of northern regions take precautions when outside, including wearing sunscreen and sunglasses.

Photo credit: NASA

Climate Friendly Refrigerators Headed for the US Next Year

December 28, 2010
By: Nick Engelfried 

Starting in June of 2011, consumers in the United States should have the option of reducing their household’s contribution to climate change by choosing refrigerators that use climate friendly coolants.  For the first time, companies like General Electric will introduce the use of “natural” refrigerants on a large scale.  If this new type of refrigerant spreads, it could eventually have a significant impact on the climate, and buy time as further-reaching climate policies are implemented.

Unlike millions of refrigerator units in Europe, South America, China, and many other countries, household refrigerators in the United States use chemical coolants called HFCs, which are also used in home and car air-conditioning units.  HFCs were phased into the market in the 1990s as a replacement for chlorine-based CFCs, which deplete the global ozone layer.  However while HFCs may not harm the ozone, they are greenhouse gases up to 14,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  Replacing HFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners with a less harmful chemical could therefore have a significant impact on the climate.

Fortunately a refrigerating alternative to both CFCs and HFCs exists and is already used in many parts of the world.  Refrigerants made from hydrocarbons, sometime referred to as “natural” refrigerants, neither harm the ozone layer nor add substantially to climate change the way HFCs do.  Hydrocarbon refrigerators first became popular in Europe during the 1990s, when industrialized countries began phasing out use of ozone-depleting chemicals.  These first hydrocarbon refrigerators were developed at the urging of Greenpeace, one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, which wanted to find a climate friendly alternative to CFCs.  In 1993 Greenpeace collaborated with a manufacturer in Germany to introduce the first hydrocarbon refrigerators to the market.

Today more than four hundred million hydrocarbon based household refrigerators have been sold throughout the world.  However they never caught on in the United States, partly due to early concerns that flammable hydrocarbons might prove dangerous.  In 1994 the US Environmental Protection Agency decided to prohibit use of hydrocarbons as household refrigerants, because of a lack of information about whether the chemicals were truly safe. 

Since 1994 manufacturers have improved hydrocarbon refrigerator models, and they have been used safely throughout Europe and much of the rest of the world.  Hydrocarbons have also been adopted for use in aerosol sprays, furnaces, and other products in the United States.  In 2008 the EPA gave permission for several US companies to use hydrocarbon refrigeration units in their stores.  In 2010 the EPA began taking another look at the ban on household hydrocarbon refrigerators, and next year the agency is expected to approve the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants.  This will pave the way for manufacturers and retailers to provide climate friendly refrigerator options to consumers throughout the country by June of 2011.

Widespread adoption of hydrocarbon refrigerants in the United States would set an important precedent at a time when more and more refrigerators are being made and sold in developing countries.  If growing economies in the developing world can be persuaded to use hydrocarbons instead of CFCs or HFCs in their refrigerators, it will be good news for both the ozone layer and the climate. 

An international phase-out of HFCs could be accomplished by amending the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that has successfully reduced use of CFCs and slowed deterioration of the ozone layer.  By requiring the climate impacts of CFCs also be considered, the Montreal Protocol could help eliminate at least one important greenhouse gas even in the absence of international climate treaty.  Earlier this year the United States, Canada, and Mexico joined together to introduce an amendment to the Montreal Protocol designed to phase out the use of HFCs.

Because they exist in the atmosphere in far smaller concentrations than the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels, even the complete elimination of HFCs won’t have the same climate impact as a transition to renewable energy.  However it would make a significant dent in future climate change, and could buy important time as countries around the world transition their economies to a clean energy future. 

Photo credit: Stefan on Flickr