April 23, 2019 Feature

Private Governance Response to Climate Change: The Case of Refrigerants

Michael P. Vandenbergh, Shannon Vreeland, and Ted Atwood

Refrigerants are promising targets for private greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction initiatives. Air conditioning units, fire extinguishers, aerosols, and solvents all contain chemical refrigerants that absorb and release heat. Refrigerants are used to chill food, buildings, and vehicles. Among commercial buildings, office space, health care, food service, and retail sales and service comprise well over 50 percent of all buildings in the United States and contribute a comparable amount of refrigerant emissions. Air Conditioning, Heating, & Refrigeration Institute, AHRI Releases December 2017 U.S. Heating and Cooling Equipment Shipment Data 4 (2017). Certain refrigerants have been identified as ozone depleters, and the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was designed to reduce and eventually phase out some ozone-depleting chemicals, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). Although the international effort has achieved successes, the pressure to reduce CFCs and HCFCs has had the unintended consequence of generating demand alternatives such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are potent GHGs.

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