Is the US China HFC deal a big deal for the climate?

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The BBC today reported a new US China deal to phase out HFCs, and claimed that it ‘could, by itself, curb global temperatures by 0.5 degrees Celsius. No small achievement.’

The White House press release says the deal could ‘potentially reduce some 90 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions.’

It is frustrating that neither the BBC nor the White House chose to say how many actual tonnes of HFCs this is.

But no matter. It so happens that I can use my PAGE09 integrated assessment model to work out roughly the drop in temperature that not emitting 90 gigatons of CO2 would produce. At its peak, the drop in global mean temperature would be 0.02 – 0.07 degrees C (5-95% confidence interval), with a mean value of 0.04 degrees C. The range is so wide because we don’t know exactly what the climate sensitivity is. But even allowing for this, the effect of the deal will be nowhere near a 0.5 degree C drop.

So where did the BBC get 0.5 degrees C from? Could it be as simple as a misplaced decimal point?

Update added 12:15 BST 13 June 2013

No it’s not that simple. Matt McGrath, author of the BBC report, has told me that the 0.5 degrees C figure comes from Bill Hare, one of the authors of the original report.

Update added 17:00 BST 13 June 2013

It appears that what Bill Hare actually said was: ‘If HFCs were scrapped globally, “it… could result in a reduction of between 0.1 and 0.5 degrees”.

In other words, the 0.5 degrees C reduction is the top end of a range for the benefits of releasing no more HFCs anywhere ever,  not a central expectation for the results of the US China deal. This is much more believable.

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