Canadian Consulting Engineer

Air-conditioning HFCs targeted as global warming threat

May 15, 2013
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Warren Heeley, president of the Heating, Refrigeration & Air-Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), wrote to Peter Kent, Canada's Minister of the Environment, in early April requesting that someone get in touch about HRAI's concerns.

Warren Heeley, president of the Heating, Refrigeration & Air-Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), wrote to Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of the Environment, in early April requesting that someone get in touch about HRAI’s concerns.

The industry association is troubled about the federal government’s growing support for a new international organization dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are widely used in air-conditioning equipment, so any government policies aimed at curbing their use would have a big impact on the building HVAC industry.

The HFC refrigerants were originally introduced as a more environmentally benign coolant than their predecessor CFCs and HCFC coolants, which are chlorine-based substances that destroy the ozone layer and are now being phased out.

The organization that the Canadian government is supporting and which HRAI wants to know more about is the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC). In February 2012 Canada was one of six countries to found the CCAC, which is part of the UN Environmental Program.


The CCAC is dedicated to reducing “short-lived climate pollutants” or SLCPs. These substances include not just HFCs, but also black carbon (soot) and methane. They are being targeted because they are “potent global warmers.” The sources of black carbon are mostly engines and combustion, while a major source of methane emissions is landfills.

Even though SLCPs have relatively short lifespans in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide, the government estimates they will contribute about half of the climate warming effect of current man-made emissions over the next two decades.

The Canadian government says it wants to zero in on these substances because they have an inordinate impact on Arctic lands. It also wants to reduce them precisely because these gases are short-lived and so reducing them would help to reduce greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere relatively quickly.

Heeley explains that a few years ago, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico put forward a motion to have HFCs incorporated under the Montreal Protocol, the protocol that governs ozone-depleting substances and that led to the phasing out of CFCs and HCFCs from refrigeration equipment. The idea behind this “North American Amendment” to the Montreal Protocol to include HFCs was that it already had the framework in place for controlling these types of substances.

However, the idea has not taken root, largely, Heeley suggests, because large developing countries like China and India resisted it. With that initiative stalled, Heeley believes that the government has turned to the CCAC as a way to set controls over HFCs.

“We [HRAI] are in agreement with working internationally towards low global warming potential HFCs and other alternatives,” he says. “That’s fine; we support that.”

But what they are concerned about is that the government is proceeding without any consultations with the industry that will be drastically affected. That is why Heeley has written to Peter Kent and requested consultations.

“Our members said, ‘We need to put this in front of the Minister and ask him to sit down with us and let us know what the mandate is and what Canada’s involvement is going to be with this group,'” explains Heeley.

Currently HFCs are counted as greenhouse gases and included in the Kyoto Protocol and its successors, international agreements that Canada has now pulled out of.

On April 10, the Environment Minister announced a $10-million contribution to the CCAC, adding to a previous $3 million it gave to the CCAC trust fund, and $7 million to it “for projects that support the mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants in developing countries.”

The CCAC’s now has 30 countries as members, including the U.S. and Mexico, most of the European countries and others like Israel, Chile and Peru. The World Bank and many non-government environmental organizations and international environmental organizations such as the International Institute for Sustainable Development are also members.

To read the Canadian government’s announcement of April 10, 2013:  “Canada Invests in Global Climate and Clean Air Solutions,” click here.

To read the Government of Canada’s release “Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs), on launch of CCAC, February 2012, click here.

To visit the UN CCAC site, click here.


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