Refrigerants play a significant, if underappreciated, role in climate change. Indeed, “refrigerant management” ranked first out of 100 strategies with the potential to reduce greenhouse gases, as identified by a team of researchers presented in a new book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (Paul Hawken ed., Penguin Books 2017). This ranking may surprise some, but consider the following. First, some chemical substances used as common refrigerants are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in their effect on the climate when leaked or released into the atmosphere through improper handling or disposal. Second, they are ubiquitous: refrigerants are used in air-conditioning units, including those in motor vehicles; refrigerator and freezer units; and large-scale commercial applications, such as building chillers. Because of its potential impact on climate, refrigerant management is drawing increased attention and is the focus of new or expanded regulation in the United States and internationally.
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