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Obama unveils major new effort to tackle climate change

The Obama administration is taking new steps to phase out the production of a well-known chemical coolant used in refrigerators and air conditioners that has been tied to global warming. 

The White House confirmed to The Hill that it plans to meet with some of the largest chemical firms and food retailers in the country on Tuesday. They will announce voluntary commitments to target the coolant R-134a, a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC).

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The commitment would include phasing out similar HFC compounds used in nearly every office, home and automobile in the U.S.

Companies pledging new efforts to tackle emissions include Coca-Cola, Target, Red Bull and several air conditioning and refrigeration retailers, according to a fact sheet released by the White House.

At Tuesday’s White House meeting, a total of 22 companies and organizations will commit to cut HFC emissions, phase out use of the coolant, or use more climate-friendly refrigerants and systems by 2020. 

The private sector pledges and executive actions to reduce emissions of HFCs will have a dramatic effect in reducing greenhouse gases, the administration said.

HFCs are 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the White House stressed, making the new reductions equal to taking 15 million cars off the road for 10 years. 

It estimates the pledges and actions will cut consumption of HFCs by the equivalent of reducing 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2025.

If the U.S. doesn't act, HFC emissions are expected to double by 2020 and triple by 2030, according to the White House. 

The move comes just weeks before Obama heads to the United Nations climate summit in New York, Sept. 23, to tout the country's commitment to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. 

Obama has made reducing climate change a key part of his second-term agenda, and has focused on administrative actions. 

The U.N. summit is meant to help build momentum for climate change talks scheduled for 2015 in Paris.

Steve Yurek, CEO of the Air Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute, told The Hill that heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration industry representatives will talk to the administration on Tuesday about what commitments the United States might make when Obama goes to the U.N. summit next week.

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“The intended purpose is to highlight what we are doing and show North American leadership in this area. You often hear that North America isn't doing anything but we have done more in the past 10 years and plan to do more in the next 10 years,” said Yurek, whose institute represents over 300 U.S. and global companies.

He added that while industry is taking voluntary initiatives they are “asking the U.S. government and international leaders to take up an agreement to phase out HFCs” as well. 

The administration's latest actions will promote safer alternatives to HFCs within federal agencies and phase out the use of such compounds in federal buildings. 

At the president's direction, the EPA will work with private sector groups and other governments to form workshops that share alternative technologies, and policies aimed at curbing HFCs.

The Energy Department is also opening up new funding opportunities for research and development of alternatives to HFC to spur the next generation of efficient cooling technologies and energy reductions across U.S. businesses.

This story was updated at 9:30 a.m.