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Big companies agree to cut back on a potent greenhouse gas

At an event attended by executives from Coke, Dupont, and Honeywell, the White House unveiled a set of voluntary measures aimed to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons.

Yes, carbon is the big baddie when it comes to climate change. But gases like HFC, despite being a tiny percentage of total greenhouse gases, pack a punch in therms of what scientists call their "global warming potential", which they rate as many hundred times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The White House on Tuesday announced steps to tackle a potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration and air conditioning, of which the United States is the world's largest producer, a week ahead of a major UN summit focused on addressing climate change.

The Obama administration unveiled a batch of voluntary private sector commitments and executive actions to phase out the use of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which would result in the equivalent reduction of 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide through 2025.

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Industry leaders from companies such as Coca Cola, Dupont, True Manufacturing and Honeywell attended an event at the White House on Tuesday where they pledged to invest in the next generation of HFC alternatives and to adopt more climate-friendly technologies.

HFCs are factory gases that were used to replace ozone-depleting substances in air conditioning, insulation and refrigeration. Support is now growing to phase them out under the UN's Montreal Protocol.

They are 10,000 times more potent than the most prevalent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and are growing at a rate of up to 15 percent per year.

"Today's commitments and actions demonstrate significant U.S. leadership in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit next week and build on progress made earlier in the Administration," the White House Council on Environmental Quality said in a statement.

They will also help build momentum for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the use of HFCs.

Additional announcements on HFCs are expected to be announced at the UN Secretary General's Climate Summit in New York City on Sept. 23, according to the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

"This is another important step by the White House in their effort to capture the biggest climate prize in near term by the phasing down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, a strategy now supported by over 100 countries," said Stephen Andersen, Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will carry out some of the executive actions announced by the White House.

It will require companies to list additional fluorinated and non-fluorinated chemicals as acceptable alternatives, identify refrigerant management options to reduce HFCs from air conditioning and refrigeration equipment and set up sector-specific workshops on phasing out HFCs.

Industry also announced new investments and measures on phasing out HFCs.

Stephen Yurek, president of industry group the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute announced the industry will invest $5 billion in research and development over the next decade to develop the next generation of refrigerants.

Individual companies also made voluntary pledges Tuesday.

Coca Cola set a goal for all of its newly purchased cold drink refrigerators to be HFC-free. It currently has more than 1 million units in use throughout the globe.

Rival PepsiCo said it will begin buying new HFC-free equipment starting in 2015 with a goal to be HFC-free by 2020.

DuPont, which invented fluorinated refrigerants, announced its new products would reduce the greenhouse gas content of refrigerants by 90 million tons carbon dioxide equivalent in the U.S., and 245 million tons worldwide by 2025. (Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; editing by Andrew Hay)