MANILA – The government is searching for possible alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the man-made compound that has replaced ozone-depleting substances (ODS), which were previously used mainly as refrigerants.

HFCs have minimal impact on the ozone layer, which protects Earth from ultraviolet solar radiation, but the government will freeze the import of these compounds beginning 2024 because these greatly contribute to climate change, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

"Those are dangerous greenhouse gases (GHGs) with high global warming potential," Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu said in a message delivered by his chief of staff, Undersecretary Rodolfo Garcia, during a press conference Thursday.

Cimatu noted that HFCs are spreading fast in the atmosphere, worsening global warming.

The United Nations Environment Programme has warned that HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) in contributing to climate change.  CO2 is among the climate change-driving GHGs.

According to experts, GHGs accumulate in the atmosphere and trap heat, raising temperatures and resulting in global warming, thus leading to climate change.

Climate change's impacts on the Philippines are the increasing onslaught of extreme weather events, as well as the rise in sea level and temperatures, they said.

The Philippines has been identified as among the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed Sept. 16 as International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, commemorating the date in 1987 when countries signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The Montreal Protocol's 30th anniversary this year will carry the theme, “Caring for all life under the sun.”

The Montreal Protocol is the international treaty adopted by countries to reduce and eventually phase out the production and consumption of ODS worldwide so the ozone layer could be protected from further harm.

Among the treaty's achievements are the elimination of ODS, the progressive healing of the ozone layer, and health benefits, such as avoiding millions of potential skin cancer cases, DENR Undersecretary Jonas Leones said during the press conference.

He noted that parties to the Montreal Protocol came up last year with the Kigali Amendment to this treaty so global production and use of HFCs could be phased down.

The Kigali Amendment, which aims to avoid nearly 0.5°C of warming by the end of the century, is targeted to enter into force on Jan. 1, 2019, he said.

According to the DENR, the Philippines' HFC phasedown targets after freezing importation in 2024 are 10 percent by 2029, 30 percent by 2035, 50 percent by 2040, and 80 percent by 2045.

"There's still time to look for alternatives to HFCs," DENR Undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna said during the press conference, noting that such alternatives must be affordable and readily available.

Philippine Ozone Desk program manager, Elvira Pausing, said parties with alternatives to HFCs can bring samples to the DENR and other government agencies that will screen them and determine whether or not they comply with national standards.

Results of the screening will show if such alternatives can be marketed locally, she noted.

Cimatu sought the Philippine refrigeration and air conditioning sector's cooperation on the gradual phasedown of HFCs nationwide.

"The focus now is on climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs," he said, adding that failure to phase down HFCs will negate benefits reaped from implementing the Montreal Protocol. (PNA)