Created to cool our drinks, food, houses and cars, F-gases are actually helping to heat up the globe and cause climate change.
A group of greenhouse gases you've probably never heard of are contributing much more than their fair share to climate change. These "super-greenhouse gases" are a family of manmade chemicals called F-gases.
The F stands for fluorine. Common F-gases include chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). The last of these, HFCs, are the fastest growing contribution to climate change.
F-gases are mostly used in refrigeration and air conditioning, even though there are natural alternative technologies on the market. They are also used in foams, aerosols, fire protection and solvents. F-gases become a problem when they escape, through leaks, during maintenance, or when an appliance is scrapped at the end of its life.
HFCs: A growing threat to our climate
CFCs and HCFCs were phased out by the Montreal Protocol because they destroy the ozone layer and expose us to harmful ultraviolet rays.
The chemicals industry created HFCs as a supposedly "green" replacement. But in reality, HFCs are a very serious, but little-known contributor to global warming. Each molecule of a F-gas actually heats the surface of the earth much more strongly than a molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The concentration of HFCs (the newest F-gases) in the atmosphere is growing faster than other greenhouse gases and they are far more powerful. The most recent science shows that if we only focus on reducing CO2 and do nothing about HFCs, they will be responsible for 28-45% of climate change by 2050.
HFC134a is the most widely used, and it is more than a thousand times more potent than CO2 in global warming.
If appliances were properly taken care of and disposed of, then HFC 134a would hardly ever be released into atmosphere, and F-gases wouldn't be a problem. But, industry itself says that 59% of all HFC 134a ever produced is already in the atmosphere.
Problems from both old and new F-gases
CFCs and HCFCs are still present in our atmosphere, even though they have been banned by the Montreal protocol. This is because of their very long lifetimes. We won't actually see the ozone layer back to pre-1980 levels until around 2065.
In 2005, all F-gases combined were responsible for 17% of the cumulative human contribution to climate change. Most of that warming came from the ozone-depleting products that will be reduced over the next hundred years.
However, if we do nothing about HFCs, they will be an even bigger threat to our climate. Current HFC production levels and forecasts could easily mean that they undo all the benefits of the HCFC ban and continue to drive global warming. To prevent their emissions reaching these dangerous levels, we have to phase out all ozone-depleting and climate-harming F-gases.
What are we doing?
Greenpeace has been campaigning to eliminate F-gases and in particular HFCs since before ozone-destroying substances were phased out in the late 1990s. Back in the 90s, Greenpeace launched Greenfreeze. This technology is HFC-free, has a much lower global warming impact and is currently used in over 400 million domestic refrigerators around the world.
Today we are working to encourage governments, business and industry to work together to eliminate F-gases completely, and to capture, recycle and destroy those that are already inside products.
Learn more about climate science:
The greenhouse effect
Other greenhouse gases
Deforestation and climate change
Scientific consensus on climate change