Ozone-Friendly Chemical Said to Be Causing Global Warming

Published September 1, 2009

Refrigerant chemicals that have replaced substances banned for allegedly harming the ozone layer are poised to become a major source of global warming, according to a study conducted by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

By the year 2050, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—which replaced chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) banned by the Montreal Protocol—may exacerbate carbon dioxide-related global warming by 19 percent, according to the study.

Unintended Consequences

Since the Montreal Protocol took effect in 1989, HFCs have replaced CFCs as the chemicals of choice for refrigeration and air conditioning. A decade later, there appears to be little difference in seasonal and annual fluctuations of the Earth’s ozone layer, but the greater prevalence of HFCs has the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) worried about global warming.

“Increased use and emission of HFCs could largely undo the climate benefits already achieved by the Montreal Protocol,” said NEAA in an issue summary accompanying the study.

“The climatologists’ opinion was we’ve got to stop using CFCs because they’re affecting the ozone and increasing the greenhouse effect. Yet we’ve replaced it with another chemical that is still a greenhouse gas. We traded one greenhouse gas for another greenhouse gas. Anyone should’ve seen this coming,” said Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Valuable Products Banned

“CFC was the original refrigerant,” Burnett explained. “It was better than anything else on the market because it had a lot of virtues. It wasn’t toxic to humans. It was a good insulator. It worked well and wasn’t harmful, and then we started worrying about the ozone layer. There are no refrigerators or venting at the poles, and CFCs don’t seem to break up ozone layers over the cities where they are released. I always found that puzzling.”

Environmental policy analyst Drew Thornley said, “This latest research highlights the potential unintended consequences of government regulation, and it further supports the position that drastic measures to curb greenhouse-gas emissions are premature, insofar as research is ongoing and current questions remain unanswered and new questions emerge.

“As an alternative to hasty, sweeping, climate-fighting mandates and regulations, a better approach is to take whatever time is necessary to continue important research and gather the information that will put us in a better position to protect the environment and consumers,” Thornley added.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.