Australia could cut carbon emissions by seven per cent from the heating, ventilation, airconditioning and refrigerant industry alone if a move to phase out hydrofluorocarbons is realised, according to the Australian Refrigeration Association.
HFCs, commonly used in airconditioning, refrigeration and insulating foam production, have largely replaced the ozone depleting substances chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons banned under the Montreal Protocol.
However, HFCs, while non-ozone depleting, are still powerful greenhouse gases with global warming potential many thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. And they’re increasing. If not tackled, HFC emissions are set to double by 2020 and triple by 2030, and will account for 9-19 per cent of global emissions by 2050.
The Climate and Cleaner Air Coalition, an influential United Nations initiative that comprises 40 countries including Australia, the US, European Commission and Japan, has now put its weight behind a push for HFCs to be phased out through the Montreal Protocol, Australian Refrigeration Association president Tim Edwards told The Fifth Estate.
Australia seems set to respond, with foreign minister Julie Bishop today attending the Climate Leaders’ Summit in New York in lieu of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and telling Fairfax Media the government would join a global declaration to phase out HFCs.
Huge climate benefits
The potential benefit of shifting from HFCs is significant. An article in The Economist found that the Montreal Protocol, while designed to tackle ozone depletion through the ban of CFCs and HCFCs, had also made the most significant, though unintended, contribution to tackling climate change of any climate policy ever put in place, with 135 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent saved since its inception.
Tackling HFCs through the same protocol could see similar success, which in Australia could translate to a seven per cent cut in carbon emissions, dwarfing Australia’s current commitment of a five per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2020 based on 2000 levels.
Mr Edwards said news like this never hit the headlines, largely because refrigerants were poorly understood – “the alphabet soup of the industry”.
Action already being taken
Other nations are already taking unilateral action. The EU has legislated for a HFC phase out by 2030 and the US last week announced executive actions and private sector commitments that would reduce HFC use equivalent to 700 million tonnes of CO2 by 2025. As part of the executive actions, the US Department of Energy announced new funding for research and development into next generation, efficient cooling technologies, including HVAC technologies that use alternative refrigerants and those that move beyond using refrigerants altogether.
Meanwhile members of the Consumer Goods Forum, comprising 400 of the world’s largest retailers, manufacturers and service providers with annual revenues of $3.5 billion, including companies like Woolworths, Tesco and Walmart, have also pledged to phase out HFCs from next year.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has indicated his support, releasing a statement last week on the Montreal Protocol and urging countries to take inspiration from the protocol’s success in preserving the ozone layer and apply it to the climate change fight.
“The Montreal Protocol has shown that decisive action by the international community, including the private sector, can achieve transformative results for the common good,” he said. “Let us learn from this example and apply its lesson to the urgent task of addressing the climate challenge.”
Climate-friendly energy-efficient alternatives available
Mr Edwards said there were replacement natural refrigerant based technologies that were innately more energy efficient, as well as synthetic low GWP refrigerants. There would, however, be winners and losers in the race to more energy efficient and environmentally sound HVAC & R solutions, and it was important for the industry to understand the drivers to change in the industry.
Mr Edwards said original equipment manufacturers worldwide were already responding to movements by the EU, US and Consumer Goods Forum, changing their engineering to enable and accelerate the use of low global warming potential natural refrigerants.
“This is going to happen,” he said.
Government support needed
It was important the Australian government helped local industry move towards low global warming potential refrigerants, Mr Edwards said. There were a range of standards, regulatory and licensing issues that needed to be resolved. Training, education and communications were also needed for an estimated 100,000 individuals.
The ARA is also calling for a HVAC and refrigerant innovation policy “consistent with international agreements calling for the phase down and phase out of ozone depleting and high global warming potential refrigerants”, as well as a nationally consistent licensing system that addresses natural refrigerants.