As the world becomes increasingly aware of the dangers of global warming, we’ve remained largely focused on the rising CO2 levels produced by fossil fuel consumption. And while that is undoubtedly a large part of the picture, there’s another crucial factor many of us are hardly aware of: hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
Found in air conditioning units, refrigerators, and foams, HFCs are an extremely harmful greenhouse gas that, if taken out of operation today, could reduce global temperatures by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius. Considering a rise of just 1.5 degrees would result in the death of the planet’s coral reefs and enough sea level rise to wipe out entire coastal cities, half a degree could significantly mitigate the risk of global disaster. This is what the UN hopes to accomplish through current talks in Rwanda and a proposal that would replace all HFCs with clean alternatives.
During the first of a series of meetings this week, United Nations Environmental Program executive director Erik Solheim said of the magnitude of these talks, “No one, frankly, will forgive you if you cannot find a compromise at this conference. This is one of the cheapest, one of the easiest, one of the lowest-hanging fruits in the entire arsenal of climate mediation.” According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, HFCs fall under the umbrella of halocarbons, which make up approximately 8 percent of manmade global warming impacts.
While a plan to phase out HFCs would seem straightforward and easy to execute, some developing countries like India are arguing against it because a costly replacement might make air conditioning too expensive for the millions of people who rely on it. That being said, slowing the runaway train of greenhouse gases and rising temperatures could mean securing a safer future for the entire planet. Luckily, we’ll know soon enough what lies ahead for the planet’s fate. Leaders from 170 countries will settle this high-stakes decision by Friday.