“It is vital to expand our presence” - Interview with Brent Hoare (I)

By Sabine Lobnig, Nov 12, 2009, 15:36 7 minute reading

The Green Cooling Association, a most active advocate of natural refrigerants in Australasia and beyond, attended the Montreal Protocol talks in Egypt last week. In Part I, Executive Director Brent Hoare highlights the vital role advocates for F gas-free solutions play, the real costs of natural refrigerant solutions, and ongoing campaigns and projects pleading their case at global climate talks.

hydrocarbons21.com (HC21): Why did the Green Cooling Association attend the 21st Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol? What were your expectations when you arrived in Port Ghalib on 2 November?

Brent Hoare: This meeting was the first MoP Green Cooling has attended, and after participating in the two previous mid-year Open Ended Working Groups it seemed essential to ensure a voice for the natural refrigerants industry was present at this crucial decision making forum in the lead up to the Copenhagen climate talks. In the immortal words of Woody Allen, “90% of success in life is just turning up”, and the natural refrigerants industry has been conspicuously absent from these negotiations, whilst the fluorolobby has been present at these crucial meetings for years, with all too familiar results.

I believe it is vital that we continue to expand our presence at this key decision making body to ensure that the world’s policy makers are fully informed of the tremendous potential we offer to help solve the inextricably linked global crises of ozone depletion and anthropogenic climate change. It is well past time we stopped relying solely on our friends and colleagues in the Environmental Non-Government Organisations (or “ENGOs”) to make the case for climate friendly, future proof solutions to the environmentally devastating refrigerants problem.

Expectations of a decision on the HFC phase-down amendment proposals which would have echoed the historic 2007 decision at the 20th MoP in Nairobi which agreed to accelerate the phase out of HCFCs were pretty low following the strong opposition from India and China at the Geneva OEWG. Given the increasing alarm of climate scientists about the pace of observed climate disruption, there was some hope of a better outcome that that which eventuated at the meeting. Even though the more cautious voices were proved correct, there is now a strong imperative for the climate negotiators and advocates in Copenhagen next month to pay serious attention to HFCs, and the need to empower the Montreal Protocol to act to phase out production and consumption of these dangerous gases, and to ensure the proper coordination of the two conventions that avoids them working at cross purposes any longer.

HC21.com: The Green Cooling Association prepared a Position Paper entitled “Keeping Cool without Cooking the Planet”. Here you state that the natural refrigerants industry stands ready to deliver the range of solutions we need to keep cool, and that with on-going innovations the industry offers technologically mature and commercially feasible solutions. Opponents often contradict this argument, saying that either the technology is not ready or costs would be too high. Now, what are the requirements to accelerate the uptake of natural refrigerants?

Hoare: It is beyond argument that in many applications natural refrigerants are established as the most effective and cost efficient solution, particularly domestic refrigeration, small commercial refrigeration cabinets, heat pumps and industrial food processing, and this is rapidly becoming accepted in the large commercial or supermarket refrigeration sector too, even if this has yet to be accepted and understood in many parts of the world. Of course, innovation in all these sectors continues to take place, and we will continue to see significant further improvements. In other high-emission sectors, such as mobile air conditioning and stationary domestic and commercial air conditioning, natural solutions have been developed and proven, but are still in the early commercialisation phase, and ongoing research and development activity will deliver climate friendly solutions to market in the very near future.

Cost objections need to be treated with great scepticism as in most cases there is little reason why natural solutions should be any more expensive than conventional fluorocarbon systems and equipment once sufficiently large economies of scale are achieved in high volume production. In time we can be confident these will be achieved, with courageous and responsible decisions by large end users and the necessary policy settings from regulators.

Key among these are the need to internalise the environmental costs of the fluorocarbon “super greenhouse gases” which can be done either by the imposition of the extremely effective Scandinavian style taxes on HFCs and prohibitions on HCFCs, or by including HFCs (with complementary carbon equivalent pricing mechanisms and accelerated phase outs of ozone depleting HCFCs) in cap and trade Emissions Trading Schemes such as Australia is debating in the Senate this week. The fluorocarbon industry is fighting as hard as they can to be let off the ETS hook, as they know full well there is no evidence to support their arguments that demand for HFCs is inelastic (or unaffected by increased prices). The Scandinavian experience clearly shows this is not the case. Combined with the higher energy efficiencies achievable with well designed and installed natural refrigerants systems, paying the environmental cost of HFC leakage is extremely effective in driving decisions to adopt climate friendly solutions.

In addition, to accelerate and manage the imperative transition to natural refrigerants, controlling production and consumption under the mechanisms, institutions and funding available within the Montreal Protocol is a fundamental requirement for achieving a global phase out. This is of fundamental importance in assisting developing countries to ‘leapfrog’ directly to natural refrigerants, without becoming trapped down the dead end HFC street. The same could be said of advanced economies that remain highly reliant on HCFCs, as is the case in North America.

HC21.com: How were natural refrigerants at the Montreal Protocol meeting represented, and which organisations, besides the Green Cooling Association, drew attention to the ecological, economic, and social benefits of hydrocarbons, ammonia, and carbon dioxide?

Hoare: Let me first offer congratulations to the Japanese Government Trade and Industry Department, METI, and Sanyo, for going to great trouble and expense to host a stall and an important side event in Port Ghalib. The presentations on the Sanyo CO2 commercial refrigeration cabinets and highly sophisticated refrigerant reclamation and destruction technologies of Asada had a very strong impact on the distinguished delegates. Although attendance could have been better, I am sure the long hours spent staffing the stand and establishing personal contacts will guarantee a valuable return on their investment, and I think they have set a very powerful for other supportive Governments and far sighted environmentally responsible corporations with important stories to tell the world to follow at future meetings.

The German Government aid agency GTZ Proklima also deserves high praise for their continued commitment to showcasing emerging natural refrigerant systems at Montreal Protocol meetings, with the display of an operational Gree R290 (propane) split system domestic air conditioning unit they are helping to develop in China. A new book on natural foam blowing agents and a side event on their study of projected HFC emissions also attracted great interest at the meeting.

I believe the natural refrigerants industry owes a great debt of gratitude to the ENGOs for driving the push for natural solutions at the Montreal Protocol. Greenpeace International deserves particular recognition for maintaining their efforts to have natural refrigerants recognised by the Parties over the last 18 years. Events at this meeting amount to a profound vindication of their unwavering determination, and the continued delay of the Parties to reach agreement on the need to phase out HFCs is frankly speaking a tragic betrayal of the interests of future generations, however impolite it might be to say so. In more recent years the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based in London and Washington, DC, and the influential Washington based Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD) have had an enormous impact on the progress and direction of the debate at the Montreal Protocol. I strongly concur with their view that the greatest achievements of the treaty lie in the future rather than the past, and applaud their visionary commitment to helping achieve environmental benefits under Montreal that are hard to overstate.

Of course the shecco project THENATURALVOICE is a new and very necessary addition to the advocacy team for naturals that will I’m sure play an invaluable role in communicating to Parties that solutions to achieve a rapid HFC phase out are both achievable and necessary. The International Institute of Refrigeration (IIR) is also to be congratulated for their commitment to attending these meetings.

I encourage all participants in the push to develop natural refrigerant solutions to engage in this debate, to inform policy makers about the solutions they are bringing to market, and to contribute to the expense of ensuring that representatives of the natural refrigerants industry are enabled to continue participating at future meetings.


Tomorrow, we will publish Part II of this interview with a focus on concrete outcomes regarding natural refrigerants from the MoP 21 Meeting, and next steps to take over the coming months and years.


By Sabine Lobnig

Nov 12, 2009, 15:36

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