Understanding AC Refrigerant Standards
Back in 1987, alarm about emissions of ozone layer-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and bromine gases led national governments worldwide to sign the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, a United Nations (UN) environmental agreement in which 197 countries and the European Union (EU) pledged to phase out production and use of CFCs, HCFCs and bromine gases. Though revised, more aggressive reduction targets for new refrigerant standards are being met, subsequent developments — rapid industrialization in large emerging market countries and the growing threats and costs of global warming — have complicated matters further.
Led by the European Union (EU), the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Federated States of Micronesia, an international movement is already underway to ban and find substitutes for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — the group of refrigerant gases now replacing ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs — that have lower Global Warming Potential (GWP). This is causing some confusion and consternation, and is being met with some resistance in industry, the marketplace and on the part of rapidly industrializing countries, such as Brazil, China and India, who are in the midst of phasing out CFCs and HCFCs, however.
The success of the Montreal Protocol to date demonstrates that such broad-based multilateral agreements can be effective in addressing urgent environmental issues on a global basis. On the other hand, the process also highlights the challenges, complexity, uncertainties and nuances involved in drafting and enacting effective and long-lasting government policies and regulations intended to enhance socioeconomic and environmental sustainability without sacrificing too much in the way of economic growth and development potential.
Though present in miniscule quantities (an average 0.6 parts per million (PPM)), the ozone layer absorbs 97-99 percent of the sun's medium frequency ultraviolet radiation. In the 1970s, scientists raised the alarm about CFC emissions depleting ozone (O3) in the lower stratosphere (some 12-19 miles above the Earth’s surface) threatening all forms of life. International policy makers and national leaders acknowledged this assessment and took action by signing the Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985, and the subsequent signing and ratification of the Montreal Protocol (in 1987 and 1989, respectively).
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Air conditioning image via Shutterstock.