* Gases that keep us cool risk heating up planet -report
* Developing nations fuelling demand for aircons, fridges
* Alternative climate-friendly gases exist, need development
By David Fogarty
SINGAPORE, Nov 21 Soaring use of man-made
gases used in refrigerators, airconditioners and fire
extinguishers risks speeding up global warming and industry
should adopt alternatives, a U.N. report said on Monday.
In the most dire forecast, unless governments and industry
act to limit the growth, the annual emissions of
hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 2050 could equate to pumping
nearly 9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere --
about a third of mankind's CO2 emissions now.
HFCs have been phased in since the 1990s to replace
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which have damaged the Earth's
protective ozone layer and are also very powerful greenhouse
On average, HFCs survive in the atmosphere for 15 years and
are about 1,600 times more potent in trapping heat in the air
than CO2, underscoring growing alarm about these compounds.
Combined with rapidly growing CO2 emissions from fossil
fuels, this will make it even harder for mankind to try to limit
global warming to 2 degrees Celsius -- a threshold that risks
dangerous climate change, scientists say.
"In the future, HFC emissions have the potential to become
very large. This is primarily due to growing demand in emerging
economies and increasing populations," said the report by the
U.N. Environment Programme released in Bali, Indonesia.
New middle-class consumers in major developing countries
such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia are driving demand
for new refrigerators and airconditioners. HFCs are also used to
make insulating foams and aerosols.
A global pact called the Montreal Protocol, widely regarded
as one of the world's most successful environmental treaties,
led nations to phase out CFCs from the late 1980s. Production
quickly plunged, cutting the equivalent of billions of tonnes of
HFCs do not damage the ozone layer, which shields the planet
from cancer-causing ultra-violet radiation.
Global consumption has doubled in a decade to just over
400,000 tonnes in 2010 and consumption of some HFCs is growing
10 percent a year, threatening to undo the climate benefits of
the Montreal Protocol.
"If HFC emissions continue to increase, they are likely to
have a noticeable influence on the climate system," said the
report, released during a meeting of Montreal Protocol
There are options, though. These include developing and
ramping up production of HFCs that survive only a matter of days
in the atmosphere or using different gases altogether to chill
food and drinks or keep the car cool on a hot day.
For example, some manufacturers are already using
hydrocarbons, CO2 and ammonia for industrial refrigeration and
airconditioning plants while fire-fighting systems can use
foams, dry chemicals and inert gases. Increasingly, household
refrigerators are using hydrocarbons in compressors, the report
But more work needs to be done on developing and phasing in
new alternatives and working out the long-term benefits to
ensure they don't damage the climate or have other side-effects.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)