Back in 1987, 60 countries signed the Montreal Protocol, a landmark agreement to phase out gases called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which were used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and aerosol cans, because they were eroding the atmospheric ozone layer that protects us against getting too much solar radiation.
Unfortunately, this caused a big problem that no one foresaw at the time. The hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that replaced the CFCs in those devices didn't hurt the ozone layer. But HFCs were potent greenhouse gases that contributed disproportionately to global warming, which wasn't getting as much attention as it is now.
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That's why diplomats and officials from various countries have assembled in Vienna this week to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase out HFCs, which are vastly more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to greenhouse effects.
The Institute for Sustainable Development says that HFCs are 1,300 times more potent than a similar quantity of C02, when it comes to warming the planet. A 2015 article published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres reported that by 2050, one particular type of HFC, HFC-134a, could add as much as 19 percent to the warming effect of carbon dioxide.
Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told the Washington Post that "by banning HFCs, you prevent another disaster downstream."
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Another expert, former Clinton Administration climate change adviser Paul Bledsoe, said such a ban would reduce global warming in the 21st Century by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already has approved several alternative refrigerants that could be used to replace HFCs.
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