But as a warming world requires more cooling, air conditioner use is expected to go up. EIA estimates that the global stock of air conditioners will triple to 5.6 billion (pdf) by 2050. Without a meaningful shift to natural refrigerants, Walravens says, our demand for cooling could account for 13% of GHGs by 2030.

Unlike CO2, which stays in the atmosphere for centuries, many F-gases dissipate in about 20 years. So replacing supermarket cooling systems, commercial and home air-conditioners, refrigerators, and yes, ice rinks, would lead to a drop in greenhouse gases in two decades. This combination of high potency and a relatively short lifespan, means, “It’s a near-term climate win,” Walravens said. “Reducing their emissions has a really rapid effect on reducing global warming.”

Are natural refrigerants available on the market?

Air-conditioners and refrigerators for home use that use natural refrigerants are available on the market, though regulations differ in each country. Many supermarkets, in Europe, the US, and elsewhere have either switched out their cooling systems or constructed new buildings fitted for natural refrigerants.

Despite the availability of the solutions, Walravens says producers of the equipment are not making enough of these air-conditioners and refrigerators—in part because of the low public awareness on the climate impact of refrigeration. With little public pressure, the chemical companies that make hydroflurocarbons have little incentive to transition cooling appliances and systems to become more sustainable.

Countries are moving toward regulating HFCs. The US signed a law last year to phase down the supply of HFCs by 85% in 15 years. On Jan. 1, 2022, China, the world’s largest producer and exporter of HFCs, froze new production capacity for the five most widely-used HFCs.

In the last couple of years, Walravens has begun to see the awareness change. “People’s understanding and attention on climate change is much bigger now,” she said. “There’s much more interest and scope for people to take it in, which is quite exciting. Having done this for 12 years, it’s like, finally, people are listening.”

Correction, Feb. 17: The article was amended to note that cooling needs could account for 13% of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2030. An earlier version of the story said f-gases could contribute 13% of greenhouse gases by 2030.

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