The California Air Resources Board recently approved first-in-the-nation rules to curb the impact of powerful artificial refrigerants that pose a growing danger globally to efforts to contain the worst impacts of climate change.
The refrigerants, known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, are considered to be super pollutants because they trap heat in the atmosphere thousands of times more effectively than carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. These rules can serve as a national model for super pollutant reduction.
“Chemical refrigerants are fast-acting super pollutants and the fastest growing source of climate gases in the world today,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “And as the earth grows warmer, people will need to cool food, medicine and their buildings even more than we do today. We need safer alternatives to be deployed as fast as possible.”
California is required to reduce HFC emissions 40 percent below 2013 levels by 2030 under Senate Bill 1383. The regulations approved by CARB today are the most comprehensive of their kind in the world, and will help hit that target.
The new rules affect commercial and industrial, stationary refrigeration units, such as those used by large grocery stores, as well as commercial and residential air conditioning units. This equipment often leaks refrigerants over time. In other cases, emissions are released when the equipment is dismantled and destroyed at the end of its useful life.
These rules will contribute to reversing the growth trend in HFC emissions, a growing threat to the planet, and help the state achieve its goal of carbon neutrality. CARB estimates the regulations will achieve annual reductions by approximately 3.2 million metric tons of GHGs in 2030 and, with a cumulative reduction of more than 62 million metric tons by 2040, the equivalent of taking more than 12 million cars off the road. Potential benefits in avoided climate impacts could save more than $7 billion through 2040.
Prior to 2018, California was the only state that regulated HFCs. Sixteen other states have now passed legislation, based on California’s rules, or are in the process of doing so.
The rules approved today also signal the beginning of the first refrigerant recycling program to put responsibility for compliance with manufacturers. The recycling effort will help develop an even more robust program that can serve as a national model. CARB will now move forward immediately with a new rulemaking limiting purchase or use of new high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant, and a partnership with other states and the federal government to design a national program. California will then work towards 100 percent refrigerant recovery and recycling.
Technology exists that makes it possible for new facilities to use refrigerants with very low-GWP today, such as naturally occurring substances like carbon dioxide or ammonia. Additionally, the next generation of synthetic refrigerants with lower GWPs are under rapid development, in part because of requirements like California’s that will likely become national standards. Starting in 2022, new facilities will be required to use refrigerants that can reduce their emissions by up to 90 percent. The intent of the new rules is to eliminate the use of very high-GWP refrigerants in every sector that uses non-residential refrigeration systems. Compliance begins for most home air conditioning equipment in 2025.