Australia seeking comments on possible HFC emission reduction measures

By Justina Tamasiunaite, Oct 28, 2015, 12:03 4 minute reading

In a major step forward for its conservative government, Australia is seeking comments from relevant stakeholders regarding their options paper, the review of the “Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management” programme (OPSGGM).

Australia’s Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt originally announced the review of the OPSGGM programme in May 2014, with the options paper, released after public consultation, outlining a ‘strong preference’ for a hard line stance on phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

“Industry consultation indicates a strong preference for a regulated HFC phase-down as it provides long-term certainty and is technically and commercially viable. Industry’s preference is for a global phasedown under the Montreal Protocol but there is support for action in Australia ahead of a global agreement,” the options paper read.

The paper invites all interested stakeholders to submit their input before November 16, pointing out that the "options have been developed to provide a point of discussion and are not final recommendations." The final policy to be adopted by the Australian government will be presented early next year.

Back in August, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet also revealed proposals to take a ‘direct action’ approach to climate change, including a AUD$2.5 billion (€1.61 billion) Emissions Reduction Fund, the phasing out of high-GWP (global warming potential) HFCs and direct investment in low emission technologies and practices.

The government’s new commitment to an 85% phase down of HFCs by 2036, announced in August 2015, is significant as countries work to conclude a meaningful new global agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

Do Australia’s targets lack ambition?

Although the options paper identifies Australia as a leader in reducing emissions of ozone depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases, the country was described last year as the worst performing industrial nation on climate change at the United Nations talks in Lima.

Regarding HFCs, overall, the options paper lacks specifics. For instance, there is no reference in the paper to the alternatives for high GWP refrigerants, as lobbying by chemical companies has likely influenced the position of the Ministry. Thus, it is possible that the government simply intends to replace HFCs with HFO substances, as natural refrigerants were barely mentioned in the options paper.

The four possible routes in the options paper proposed this month range very broadly from minimal reform to very high-level reform, including the phase down of HFCs in options 3 and 4 (and a ban on equipment that uses HFCs in the latter).

As a measure under option four, Australia’s government is exploring the possibility of imposing an import and manufacture ban on certain high GWP technologies, such as mobile air conditioning equipment containing refrigerants with a GWP higher than 150 - from 2017 - as well as a very modest ban on supermarket equipment containing refrigerants with GWPs higher than 2500, from 2020.

Aside from these two unambitious examples the government is considering ‘exploring’, the options paper and other related documents don’t outline any further plans to investigate bans, lower-GWP alternatives or scheduled phase outs.

More aggressive stances taken around the globe

In terms of policy and industry actions taken to reduce the use of HFCs, Australia is still lagging far behind other continents, such as Europe and North America. For example, Europe has long been a leader in taking regulatory action to phase down HFCs, especially with its recent F-Gas Regulation and its amendment proposal to take global action regarding HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

Furthermore, the EU also imposed strict import and production bans and tight schedules on a wide range of equipment using HFCs. The EU’s policy actions towards HFCs could be a good role model for what Australia’s government should do.

Earlier this month, the White House also announced new private-sector commitments and executive actions that will reduce the use of and emissions from HFCs. Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tackling HFCs with its Significant New Alternatives Policy programme under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Activities are also being taken at the state level - California is planning to reduce HFC emissions with its proposed Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Strategy.

The U.S., together with Canada and Mexico, has also submitted an amendment proposal under the Montreal Protocol. “Australia could either adopt the 2015 North American Amendment Proposal or design an accelerated phase down,” Australia’s options paper states.


By Justina Tamasiunaite

Oct 28, 2015, 12:03

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