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. Created to cool our drinks, food and cars, these gases are actually helping to heat up the globe and cause climate change.
UPDATED: Read the 2012 Edition of our report, Cool Technologies: Working without HFCs
Refrigeration without F-gas: a climate solution
The F stands for fluorine. Common F-gases include chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). It is the last of these, HFCs, that are the fastest growing contribution to climate change.
HFCs: A growing threat to the climate
F-gases are mostly used in refrigeration and air conditioning even though there are better alternative technologies on the market. They are also used in foams, aerosols, fire protection and solvents. The problems happen when F-gases escape, through leaks, during maintenance, or when an appliance is scrapped at the end of its life. 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. Even if we didn't act on CO2 they would still be responsible for 10-20% of climate change by 2050. The threat of F-gases is real, and the time to act is now.
To prevent their emissions reaching these dangerous levels, we have to phase out all ozone-depleting and climate-harming F-gases.
F-gases: A climate culprit
Before HFCs, there were CFCs and HCFCs. 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 for the banned gases. 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). HFC134a is the most widely used, and it is more than a thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide in global warming.
If appliances using HFC 134a 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 the gas ever produced is already in the atmosphere. Allowing these gases onto the market has been like getting "out of the frying pan and into the fire" in environmental terms.
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 in the atmosphere. 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 which will be reduced over the next hundred years.
However, even though the Montreal Protocol is in place, there is still a big risk. With a lack of regulation, the HCFCs being phased out will be replaced by HFCs which really pack a punch to the climate. (The phase-out dates are for 2020 in developed countries and 2030 in developing countries.)
So the very bad news is that 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.
Read more about these measurements and the science of F-gases.
Dave tells you the naked truth about 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 the concept of Greenfreeze. This technology is HFC-free, has a much lower global warming impact and is currently used in over 300 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.
For more detailed information see our Fact Sheets:
Facts about HFCs
Measurements of global warming impacts
Alternatives to F-gases
Greenpeace history of fighting F-gases