HFCs advantages are that they do not deplete the ozone layer, are not flammable and have lower impact on climate change than the earlier generation of gases they were replacing.
From the late 2000s, however, there was an increasing focus on the need to reduce even further the greenhouse gas emissions from HFCs. There are technologies available to facilitate this change, including HFCs, CO2, hydrocarbons and ammonia.
Refrigerants Australia recognised early that, for most of the gases, the global warming potentials were significant and that reasonable steps needed to be taken to reduce emissions of these refrigerants.
From 1998, Refrigerants Australia was advocating for appropriate end use controls on ozone depleting refrigerants to be extended to HFCs and for controls to be managed nationally.
By 2007 Refrigerants Australia had come to the conclusion that more could and should be done to reduce the emissions of HFCs. It developed and launched the policy proposal that HFCs should be subject to a phase-down.
In 2010, this proposal was launched by the US, Canada and Mexico in the Montreal Protocol, and the Australian Government came on board in 2012. Refrigerants Australia actively supported both domestic and international moves to agree to a phase-down of HFCs.
Within the Montreal Protocol, the international community finally agreed to a phase-down in October 2016 at the seminal meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, effectively placing certainty on the phase-down of the use of HFCs and consequent lowering of emissions. The agreement called for an international phase-down of 85% of HFCs for developed countries by 2036, with developing countries reducing use of HFCs by 80% a decade later.
A global phase-down will reduce HFC emissions equivalent of up to 72 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, or the equivalent of well over a year’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
A phase-down is a gradual reduction in the maximum amount of bulk HFCs permitted to be imported into Australia. This is being managed through a quota system on imports of bulk gases.
To assist the transition phase for Australian industry, the phase-down schedule stipulated reasonably consistently sized steps every two years, in an attempt to avoid market shocks. So while the first level, starting in 2018 calls for a phase-down that is 20% lower than adopted in the Kigali agreement, the Australian phase-down ends at the same point as the Kigali phase-down.
HFCs will continue to be used, although with preferences to those with lower GWPs and smaller charge sizes.
Industry can do more
The use of electricity, rather than refrigerants, is responsible for around 90% of all emissions from RAC equipment. (2017 estimate)
Appropriate equipment size and capacity, installation and maintenance can deliver savings several times greater than could be expected through phasing down HFCs.