Nexus of Survival

Janos Maté
Senior Consultant
Greenpeace International
Political Business Unit

Human survival, in fact the survival of life as we know it, requires a nexus between the reality of climate change, preventative policies and sustainable technological development.

Climate chaos is already here

Our home is on fire. The rapidly growing litany of record breaking extreme weather events around the world signals that global warming induced climate chaos is already upon us. As the June 6, 2011 cover of Newsweek Magazine proclaimed “weather panic is the new normal”.

Nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since the year 2000[i].  Correspondingly, CO2 emissions in 2010 reached a record high of 30.6 Gt.[ii] and global greenhouse gas emissions have increased 36 per cent since the 1992 Rio Convention, despite the treaties in place to stabilize and to cut emissions.[iii]

In 2010, 2011 and 2012 the world suffered unparalleled devastation from record floods, fires, droughts, more frequent and intense tornadoes and hurricanes. In some countries, millions of acres of agricultural land were lost due to flooding, while other countries report massive declines in crop harvests due to heat and drought.

In 2010, there were an estimated 38 million “climate refugees” in the world.[iv] The same year hundreds of millions of drought starved trees died in the Amazon, raising fears that the Amazon, the so called lungs of the planet, “is on the verge of a tipping point, where it will stop absorbing greenhouse gas emissions and instead increase them”.[v]  In 2011, millions of people in China faced shortages of drinking water due to a drought along the Yangtze River, and portions of the river were closed to navigation. And in September 2012 the size of the Arctic sea ice, which has been referred to as the air-conditioner of the planet, had shrunk by 49% compared to average ice conditions between 1979 to 2000,  with the loss being more than one million square kilometers greater than in any previous year.[vi]

Tipping the Climate  

A tipping point in the climate system implies abrupt, non-linear changes. It is reaching thresholds of no return, where human intervention has little or no capacity to restore nature’s balance. Human activity is steadily pushing  the climate ever closer to self-accelerating turning points, whereby due to positive feedback, a change in one system triggers a cascade of changes in others. Alarmingly,  climate “tipping points” could be reached within a few decades.

There is now scientific and political agreement that 21st Century temperature rises must be kept between 1.5O to 2O C in order to avert full-scale climate catastrophes .[vii] The average temperature around the globe in 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 O C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline.[viii]

According to  UNEP Executive Director,  Achim Steiner,  to ensure that by 2020 temperature levels do not exceed the 1.5O to 2O centigrade threshold, global greenhouse gas emissions must be limited to around 44 gigatonnes (Gt) of CO2 equivalent. However, under a business as usual scenario, emissions are projected to rise to around 56 gigatonnes, and even if all the highest climate protection ambitions of all countries are implemented the global emissions are still expected to reach 49 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2020.[ix]

We must therefore think both long and short term, and take immediate measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have significant climate benefits over the next several decades.

The question then becomes: What are the most available and effective steps to reduce the flow of greenhouse gas emissions in the short term while we tackle the overall challenge of weaning the world from dependence on fossil fuels?

Need to phase out HFCs

HFCs are “short term climate forcing substances”. Their global warming potential (GWP) is thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide and their impact on the climate is most concentrated in the near term following their release into the atmosphere.

The “CO2 equivalent emissions of HFCs increased by approximately 8% per year from 2004 to 2008”.[x]  By 2050 their annual emissions are projected to rise to about 3.5 to 8.8 Gt CO2eq, or to between 18 to 45% of global CO2 emissions.[xi]

Therefore, the rapid phase out of HFCs is one of the immediate preventative measures that can be taken today to try to avoid near term climate tipping points. Their elimination by 2020 could help buy back some needed time to further tackle the challenges of reducing CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.

Moreover, the short term climate benefits of a rapid global HFC phase-out is even more profound when viewed through the 20 year GWP metric than the conventional 100 year GWP metric.
Using the 20 Year GWP metric to accurately measure the short term global warming potential of HFCs

The average lifetime of HFCs is 21.7 years. Consequently their global warming potential (GWP) is much higher when measured over a metric of 20 years than over a metric of 100 years. In fact,  the conventionally used GWP100 metric dilutes the short-term climate impact of HFCs. The GWP20 metric better reflects the true potency of HFCs during their actual time in the atmosphere.

Table 1: Projections for global HFC consumption (Mt CO2-eq) expressed in GWP100 and GWP20 metrics[xii]

The absolute annual HFC emissions weighted by GWP20 are roughly twice as high as the absolute annual HFC emissions weighted by GWP100.
Adopting the GWP20 metric for HFCs for policy formulation would have several ramifications. Most pronouncedly,  it would present governments a more accurate accounting of the short term climate benefits of a vigorous HFC phase-out regime. It would also define more accurately the definition of “low GWP refrigerants”.  For example, HFC-32, with a GWP100 675 and GWP20 of 2330 could not be marketed as a “low GWP” refrigerant.

Cool technologies: working without HFCs

Since the 1990’s, the Greenpeace report “Cool Technologies: Working Without HFCs” has routinely surveyed the availability of HFC-free, low GWP, alternatives to replace HCFCs.

The extensive (100 page) 2012 edition documents the wide variety of technologies in the market today that use natural refrigerants and foaming agents. For the most part these technologies use CO2, hydrocarbons, ammonia, water and air.

Natural refrigerants and foaming agents, in contrast to fluorocarbons, abundantly occur in the biosphere, maintain a steady state, and are easily absorbed by nature.

HFC-free technologies exist in nearly the full spectrum of applications, such as: (a) domestic refrigeration and air-conditioning, (b) commercial refrigeration and air-conditioning, (c) mobile air-conditioning, (d) industrial processing and (e) insulation foam blowing.

The Greenpeace report lists the names of companies manufacturing and/or using equipment with natural refrigerants, and describes the equipment. The report documents, based on data released by the companies, the efficiency advantage of equipment using natural refrigerants compared to those using HFCs.

GreenFreeze: hydrocarbon domestic refrigeration

The GreenFreeze, hydrocarbon domestic refrigerator technology was developed by Greenpeace in 1992. There are over 650 million GreenFreeze refrigerators in the world today.  100 million domestic refrigerators and freezers are produced in the world each year, and GreenFreeze technology represents between 35% and 40% of the total.  It is projected that at least 75 to 80% of global new refrigerator production will use hydrocarbon refrigerants by 2020.[xiii]
The “Cool Technology” report lists nearly 50 companies around the world that manufacture Greenfreeze refrigerators.
95% of the European and 75% of the Chinese new domestic refrigerators use hydrocarbons.[xiv] GreenFreeze is also produced in South America with countries such as Argentina and Brazil in the forefront. In 2010, Brazilian power companies initiated a refrigerator exchange program, replacing older fluorocarbon models with new hydrocarbon based refrigerators.[xv]

GreenFreeze entered the Mexican market in 2009. In 2011 the US EPA approved the use of hydrocarbons in domestic refrigeration in the United States. In 2012 GE introduced the first hydrocarbon refrigerator into the US market.[xvi]

Natural refrigerants in commercial cooling equipment

Today, commercial refrigeration represents 40% of total annual refrigerant emissions, and it is expected to represent 47% by 2015.[xvii] It is the refrigeration subsector with the largest CFC, HCFC, and HFC CO2-equivalent refrigerant emissions.[xviii]

There are three main types of commercial and industrial refrigeration equipment: (a) stand alone plug-in equipment, (b) condensing units, (c) centralized systems. “Cool Technologies: Working Without HFCs” documents the market penetration of natural refrigerants in all of these applications.

Refrigerants, Naturally! is a global initiative of multinational corporations that aims to replace the use of HCFCs and HFCs in their point-of-sale cooling applications. Current partners include Coca-Cola, Unilever, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Red Bull. The partners are proceeding. For example, by 2015 both Coca Cola and Unilever will be 100% free of HFCs in new cooling equipment and freezers.

Many other large companies use equipment with natural refrigerants, including Carlsberg, Danone, Heineken, and Nestlé. And in 2010, the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) a body comprising of over 650 companies from 70 countries, pledged to begin phasing-out HFCs as of 2015 and replace them with non-HFC refrigerants.

Numerous supermarkets around the world are using natural refrigerants in a variety of stand alone equipment and centralized systems. There is, for example, an exponential growth in the installation of transcritical CO2 systems in supermarkets. In Europe alone the total number of installed systems in 2011 was approximately 2000.[xix]

The Greenpeace report names nearly 50 supermarkets from around the world that have installed natural refrigerants based cooling equipment  and refrigeration systems. Many of these supermarket chains have plans to only use natural refrigerants in new stores, as well as to convert existing facilities to natural refrigerants. Combined they operate thousands of outlets.

The “Cool Technologies Report” also documents up to 50 manufactures and distributors of cooling equipment using natural refrigerants. Examples of equipment include:  plug-in-type supermarket cabinets; variety of display coolers; commercial fridges and freezers; ice cream freezers; water coolers; ice maker units; vending machines; cold rooms;  transcritical-cascade CO2 refrigeration systems; integrated systems for air-conditioning, heating and refrigeration functions.

Industrial use of ammonia in cooling applications

Ammonia is widely used in a variety of industrial cooling applications. Specifically in the foods industry, ammonia is used in various processes for cooling purposes. Europe is in the forefront of using ammonia in industrial processes.

Many facilities using ammonia for both industrial processes as well as space cooling.

Ammonia based systems are used in a wide variety of industrial processes including: ice cream production; beverage production; dairy products production; fresh fruit and food preservation; meat processing; poultry production; production of chocolates and fruit gums; beer production; manufacturing of pharmaceuticals; oil refinery. The Greenpeace report lists companies that install advanced ammonia cooling systems, and provides descriptions of installations in industrial plants and distribution centers.
Domestic and Commercial Air-Conditioning

As we experience ever-increasing temperatures around the world due to global warming the demand for domestic and commercial air-conditioning is exponentially growing in both industrialized and developing countries.

The global inventory of stationary air-conditioners is approximately 790 million units. This includes window and portable air-conditioners, single split type air-conditioners, multi-split type air-conditioners, ducted systems, small chillers, large chillers and centrifugal chillers. The global annual production of new stationary air-conditioning units, including all of the above A/C subtypes, is approximately 87.5 million.[xx]

There are natural refrigerant alternatives to HFCs for each of these A/C subtypes. Major breakthroughs are currently occurring. For example, Gree company in China, and Godrej company in India, are introducing hydrocarbon split air-conditioning for domestic use. And China’s HCFC Phase-out Management Plan, under the Montreal Protocol, plans for 18 HCFC-22 air-conditioner production lines, with an annual output of 4.5 million units, to be converted to R290 by the end of 2015.[xxi]

According to one study, a comparison of hydrocarbon charge sizes with the standard flammability limits indicates that hydrocarbons in split air-conditioners can be used in about 65% of the cases where HCFC/HFCs are currently used.[xxii]

The “Cool Technologies: Working Without HFCs” report details numerous supermarkets, office buildings, department stores, public buildings, hospitals, universities, airports, convention centers,  and other commercial enterprises in various countries that are cooled by air-conditioning systems using natural refrigerants.

Conversions from HCFC-22 to hydrocarbons in air-conditioning

It is widely accepted that propane and other hydrocarbons are the optimal alternative, nearly drop-in replacements for HCFC-22 in air-conditioning systems. The Greenpeace Report documents the conversion of up to 160 public and commercial buildings from HCFC-22 to hydrocarbons in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Jamaica and the Philippines. These conversions report 10 to 30% energy savings.
District cooling

A district cooling system (DCS) distributes thermal energy in the form of chilled water or other media from a central source to multiple buildings through a network of underground pipes for use in space and process cooling. The cooling or heat rejection is usually provided from a central cooling plant, thus eliminating the need for separate systems in individual buildings.”[xxiii] DCSs today rely on a variety of cooling agents, including HFCs, ammonia, water, or the use of absorption chillers. However, the use of HFCs for DCSs is unnecessary because natural refrigerants are available and can be safely applied in large chillers.

DCSs exist in many parts of the world. There are about 100 DCSs in Europe[xxiv]. In the United States, there are approximately 2,000 DCSs, which cool 33,000 commercial buildings, plus numerous schools, institutions, and residences.[xxv] They have also been installed in the Middle East and in Singapore.

Mobile Air-Conditioning

Global passenger-car production in 2010 was approximately 66 million, of which 75%, or 49.5 million, were equipped with air conditioners.  In 2010, there were an estimated 600 million cars in the world with approximately 70% of them equipped with A/C, each with an average charge of 0.6 -0.8 kg of refrigerant. The total stock of refrigerant charge from the global fleet of passenger-cars was 70,100 tons in 2006, with an average leakage rate of approximately 17%.[xxvi] Currently, all new mobile air-conditioning (MAC) units use HFC-134a refrigerant.

Hydrocarbons offer reliable and more efficient alternatives to HFCs in mobile air-conditioning (MACs). Though at the present time there are no hydrocarbon mobile air-conditioners sold on the world market, HFC MACs are routinely converted to hydrocarbons in many countries including China, United States, Australia and elsewhere.

Greenpeace estimates that globally up to 50 million cars may have been converted, outside of regulatory framework, from CFCs and HFCs to hydrocarbons.[xxvii]

From a technical perspective CO2 based MACs can also provide better alternatives to HFCs. Extensive measurements carried out in 1999 at the University of Illinois showed that CO2 MACs have at least 30% lower TEWI than HFC systems.[xxviii]

The Cool Technologies Report lists several companies that are using natural refrigerants for air-conditioning in trucks, buses and commercial vehicles, as well as for shipping of goods.


Because of concerns regarding the high GWP of HFCs currently on the market, the chemical industry is now rolling out a new generation of low GWP unsaturated HFCs, branded as HFOs, or “hydrofluoro-olefins.”

HFC-1234yf is slated to replace HFC-134a in mobile air-conditioning. Other HFO refrigerants are in the pipeline for various cooling applications. HFOs do not deplete the ozone layer and have low global warming potential, but there are significant environmental and human safety risks associated with these new substances. The “Cool Technologies Report” summarizes  these concerns, and cautions against their uptake.  The Report notes that on “September 25, 2012  Mercedes-Benz/Daimler announced that the company will not be using HFC-1234yf in its products”.


“Cool Technologies: Working Without HFCs” documents the “possible.”  It demonstrates that the necessary nexus between climate protection policies and technological development is achievable in the refrigeration and cooling sectors.  



[ii] International Energy Agency (May 30, 2011). “Prospect of limiting the global increase in temperature to 2ºC is getting bleaker”:

[iii] Steiner, Achim, UNEP Executive Director (November 14, 2011): Climate Lecture at Berlin Technical University.

[iv] Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (2011). “Displacement Due to Natural Hazard-induced Disasters: Global Estimates for 2009 and 2010”:



[vii] Op.Cit. Steiner, Achim (2011)


[ix] Ibid.

[x] UNEP Synthesis Report (2011). “HFCs: A Critical Link in Protecting Climate and the Ozone Layer”:

[xi] Op.Cit. UNEP Synthesis Report (2011)

[xii] Greenpeace Report (2011), “Benefits of Basing Short Term Climate Protection Policies on the 20 Year GWP of HFCs”, presented at 10th IIR Gustav Lorentzen Conference, Research by: Öko-Recherche GmbH in cooperation with HEAT GmbH (Germany)

[xiii]UNEP Report of the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, 2010 Progress Report

[xiv] UNEP Report of the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, 2010 Progress Report



[xvii] SROC Report : IPCC Special report for UNFCCC and Montreal Protocol

[xviii] IPCC/TEAP, 2005 as reported in TemaNord. 2007: “Potent Greenhouse Gases: Ways of Reducing Consumption and Emission of HFCs, PFCs 7 SF6”: report prepared for the Nordic Council of Ministers p. 32

[xix] Pedersen, Per Henrik, Danish Technological Institute, “Low GWP Alternatives to HFCs in Refrigeration”. 2012: p. 24

[xx] Preparatory study for a review of Regulation (EC) (September, 2011).

No 842/2006 on certain fluorinated greenhouse gases. Annexes to the Final Report: Prepared for the European Commission in the context of Service; Contract No 070307/2009/548866/SER/C4 : pages 189 to 201.

Authors: Dr. Winfried Schwarz, Dr. André Leisewitz, Barbara Gschrey (Öko-Recherche), Anke Herold, Sabine Gores (Öko-Institut), Irene Papst, Jurgen Usinger (HEAT International GmbH), Dr. Daniel Colbourne, Prof. Dr. Michael Kauffeld, Per Henrik Pedersen and Igor Croiset.


[xxii] Op. Cit. Preparatory study for a review of Regulation (EC) (September, 2011) p. 195.

[xxiii] National Climate Change Committee, Singapore :


[xxv]U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration. Consumer Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) 2003

[xxvi]Preparatory study for a review of Regulation (EC) (September, 2011)

No 842/2006 on certain fluorinated greenhouse gases

Annexes to the Final Report: Prepared for the European Commission in the context of

Service Contract No 070307/2009/548866/SER/C4: page 212.

Authors: Dr. Winfried Schwarz, Dr. André Leisewitz, Barbara Gschrey (Öko-Recherche),

Anke Herold, Sabine Gores (Öko-Institut), Irene Papst, Jurgen Usinger (HEAT International GmbH),

Dr. Daniel Colbourne, Prof. Dr. Michael Kauffeld, Per Henrik Pedersen and Igor Croiset.

[xxvii] Greenpeace estimate is based on above-mentioned surveys, annual growth-rates and direct stakeholder consultations.

[xxviii] J. M. Yin, J. Pettersen, R. McEnaney, and A. Beaver, “TEWI Comparison of

R744 and R134a Systems for Mobile Air Conditioning”, SAE paper no. 990582, 1999.