The phase down of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants announced as part of the Federal Government’s emissions reduction targets is a step in the right direction, according to Dr Greg Picker, executive director of Refrigerants Australia.

The government has committed to an 85 per cent phase down of HFCs by 2036 to tick off responsibilities under the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances and to reduce greenhouse gases, as HCFs have both a high global warming potential and negative impacts on the ozone layer.

Dr Picker, who was formerly associate director sustainability and climate change for AECOM, told The Fifth Estate that at this stage the government has not added any detail about the steps involved in the phase down.

He said his association does, however, welcome the move as giving the industry a degree of certainty that will enable it to begin planning. The lack of certainty since the scrapping of the carbon tax and the subsequent lack of clear policy goals had been difficult, he said.

“What the announcement [of the phase down target] says is that the government will at least deliver on the most ambitious global proposal for HFC phase down,” he said.

That is the USA’s amendment to the protocol of an 85 per cent phase down by 2036, he said.

On why the government has set such a long timeframe without some form of benchmarking between business as usual and the major HFC reduction, Dr Picker said there was an element of waiting to see what other nations would do.

“My strong suspicion – well, more than a suspicion – is they’d like to make it consistent with the Montreal Protocol. What they don’t want to do is legislate it if they don’t have to, if say things change internationally [with the protocol] and they then have to take a step backwards from that target for some reason.”

He said the RA has queried the government about the possibility of it taking unilateral action to phase down HFCs instead of waiting to see what the rest of the world does. The government’s reply was that it is waiting on the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act review and then will negotiate the steps with industry.

The review commenced in May last year, and the interim report integrating submissions from industry and expert panels is expected to be released next month.

Most international plans for phase down have already set out four to five steps to be taken within five year intervals, Dr Picker said.

What the phase down will mean for natural refrigerants is there will be an increase in their uptake. Dr Picker said there were also new synthetic refrigerants with global warming potentials that were lower than carbon dioxide entering the market and lower GWP HFCs such as HFO – an unsaturated hydrofluorocarbon – and a variety of lower GWP blends of naturals and synthetics.

The HFO compounds were different to high GWP HFCs due to the unstable nature of the molecular bonds, he said. This instability does not affect their performance when used in refrigeration equipment, but it means they break down extremely quickly in the atmosphere.

Some of these compounds, such as HFO 1234 YF are already is use in Australia in the air conditioning systems of some brands of car.

“Refrigerants Australia estimates that revisions to Ozone Protection legislation can deliver emission reduction of up to the equivalent of 80 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2020 and 2030 based on the Government’s own emissions estimates,” Dr Picker said.

“We have successfully managed the transition away from ozone depleting substances and we are working with government to deliver increased environmental and economic benefits to the community by better managing HFCs. We are confident that working together we will deliver.”

The move was also welcomed by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating.

“AIRAH supports a phase down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions,” chief executive Phil Wilkinson said.

“By having a phase down plan in place it provides industry and users with certainty so they can get ready for the transition.

“We see it as one step in a raft of initiatives we need to take on our our-emissions reduction journey. But there’s much more work that can take place to make HVAC&R less emissions intensive.”

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