Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are man-made chemicals used in refrigeration and air-conditioning.1 They were introduced in the late 1980s to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chemicals that were damaging the ozone layer. Although HFCs do not damage the ozone layer, they are powerful heat-trapping gases. Some HFCs capture several thousand times more heat than equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide.2
Huge numbers of refrigerators and air conditioners around the world today contain HFCs. Demand for this cooling equipment is increasing rapidly. (The global stock of approximately 2 billion air conditioners is projected roughly to triple by 2050.) As these appliances reach the end of their useful lives, the HFCs they contain will leak into the atmosphere. The climate change impacts are significant.3
Global HFC emissions are growing rapidly. Strategies for reducing HFC emissions focus on finding substitutes that serve similar purposes but trap far less heat when released into the atmosphere. Options include natural refrigerants, hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and lower global warming potential HFCs.4
HFCs are regulated under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, a treaty dating to 1987. In 2016, Parties to the Montreal Protocol adopted the Kigali Amendment, which establishes timetables for significant reductions in the production and consumption of HFCs in the decades ahead. The Kigali Amendment—which entered into force January 1, 2019—is projected to avoid 0.44°C (0.8°F) of global warming by 2100. It has been hailed as one of the most significant steps the world has taken to fight global warming.5
Chinese HFC Industry
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of HFCs. More than 70% of global HFC production is in China. Roughly half this production is consumed domestically.6
China is also the world’s largest producer and consumer of appliances that use HFCs. In 2018, Chinese companies manufactured roughly 60% of the world’s refrigerators and 80% of the world’s residential air conditioners. In 2021, more than 91 million refrigerators and 218 million air conditioners were made in China. In 2020, 40% of the air conditioners purchased globally were in China.7
Capacity utilization in the Chinese HFC industry is less than 50%. In 2020, the Chinese HFC industry had total production capacity of 1.683 million tonnes and actual production of 811,000 tonnes.8
China’s HFC Policies—International
China participates actively in international negotiations on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. In 2016, China joined 196 other countries in adopting the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. China ratified the Kigali Amendment in June 2021.9
The Kigali Amendment sets three timetables for deep reductions in production and consumption of HFCs.
- Most industrialized countries agreed to reduce production and consumption 10% by 2019, with reductions ultimately reaching 85% by 2036.
- Most developing countries agreed to peak production and consumption of HFCs by 2024, with reductions ultimately reaching 80% by 2045.
- Some developing countries in especially hot climates agreed to peak production and consumption of HFCs by 2028, with reductions ultimately reaching 85% by 2045.10
China is a member of the second group of countries.
HFCs played a high-profile role in China-US diplomacy during the Obama presidency. In 2013, President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama met for their first full summit in Sunnylands, California. The major announcement at the conclusion of that summit was an agreement by the two countries to work together on HFCs. HFCs received considerable attention at all subsequent Obama-Xi meetings, including President Obama’s November 2014 visit to Beijing and President Xi’s September 2015 visit to Washington.11
China’s HFC Policies—Domestic
The 14th Five-Year Plan released in March 2021 states that the Chinese government will increase controls on HFCs as part of climate change mitigation efforts. China’s Nationally Determined Contribution submitted to the UN in November 2021 reports that “as of June 2020, cumulative HFC-23 emission reductions of 65,300 tonnes have been achieved with the support of fiscal funds, equivalent to 764 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.”12
Recent measures to address HFC production and consumption include the following:
- On December 28, 2021, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) issued a notice freezing domestic production capacity for five of the most widely-used HFCs. This was two years ahead of the date in which HFC production in China is required to be frozen under the Kigali Amendment.13
- In October 2021, MEE, NDRC and MIIT released the amended List of Controlled Ozone-Depleting Substances in China, which now includes HFCs. The List’s key regulatory functions include identifying the controlled substances to be phased out in China in accordance with the Montreal Protocol and phasedown timelines for these substances.14
- Also in October 2021, MEE, the Ministry of Commerce and the General Administration of Customs released the updated List of Controlled Ozone Depleting Substances for Import and Export in China15. Accordingly, as of November 1, 2021, China commenced implementation of an HFC import and export licensing system consistent with China’s obligations under the Kigali Amendment. Enterprises engaged in import and export of HFCs included in this updated List are required, in the following order, to: 1) seek approval from the State Office of Import and Export of Ozone Depleting Substances; 2) apply for an import and export license from the Ministry of Commerce or another agency that the Ministry of Commerce entrusts with such licensing responsibility; and 3) go through required customs clearance procedures for HFC import and export activities.16
- On September 15, 2021, MEE released a circular with a range of measures on HFCs, including requiring the destruction of certain HFCs.17
During the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016–2020) there was significant activity on this topic as well.
- The Chinese government took several steps to promote R290 (a low-GWP HFC substitute) for room air conditioners and commercial refrigeration, including completing the upgrade of at least 20 R290 manufacturing lines and three R290 compressor manufacturing lines.18
- In 2019, seven ministries and agencies jointly released the Green and High-Efficiency Cooling Action Plan, which includes plans for research and development on low-global warming potential (GWP) and high-efficiency refrigerants.19
- According to the State Council, as of 2019 the Chinese government had paid subsidies worth RMB 1.4 billion for reducing or destroying 65,300 tonnes of HFC-23.20
- NDRC reports that in 2017 it “organized the inspection of the disposal of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), published the inspection results of 11 enterprises, ensured the normal operation of HFC-23 destruction devices, and provided quota-based subsidies to enterprises that perform destruction.”21
- NDRC reports that in 2016 it “organized the local commissions to report trifluoromethane (HFC-23) disposed by enterprises…arranged for random third-party verification, and together with relevant ministries, implemented the relevant policies that ensure the normal operation of devices to phase out HFC-23.”22