Liberals to regulate appliance greenhouse gases

Prime Minister Trudeau plans to pass new environmental regulations / Adrian Wyld (Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is planning to pass new legislation requiring significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions in air conditioning and refrigeration, said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

Her timely comments come after the passing of a new United Nations accord on the limiting of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Over 170 countries have signed the accord and are hoping it will prevent up to 0.5 degrees (Celsius) of warming by the next century.

“This is a really good deal,” said McKenna. “We’re really bending the curve [on the use of HFCs]. It’s a real practical example of how we can work together on climate action.”

HFCs became common after the passing of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which called for the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), another dangerous gas. HFCs are now the fastest growing greenhouse gases, seeing year-over-year increases of 10 per cent. They are also very powerful, capturing over 1000 times as much heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

The rapid growth of HFCs is largely due to the growth of air conditioning, particularly in developing countries with quickly growing middle classes. The Kigali agreement leaves an exemption for countries with exceptionally hot temperatures, allowing them more time to phase out HFCs from their air conditioning units.

The agreed upon timelines were not as aggressive as Canada and the United States had hoped. An extension of the phase-down period was added after the agreement received backlash from India and several Middle Eastern countries.

The environment minister went on to say the federal government will regulate and reduce the use of chemicals, and put incentives in place for the destruction of existing HFCs, which are usually just vented into the atmosphere.

The accord, which was signed in Kigali, Rwanda, is a complement to the major climate change agreement ratified last year in Paris. Under the Paris accord the countries of the world will work to ensure the global average temperature does not rise more than two degrees.

But unlike the Paris accord, the Kigali accord is binding, with penalties for countries that fail to meet their target.

Just last week several countries signed an agreement in Montreal to limit the greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes on international flights.

More HFCs are released as more air conditioners are used, which in turn heats the planet, increasing the demand for more air conditioning. This is a particular problem in countries close to the equator which have already experienced warming temperatures, and for many other countries that will experience heat waves.

Still, McKenna said the agreement was a major step forward, and will cause industry to produce air conditioning and refrigeration units that have lower environmental impacts.

“It is not often you get a chance to have a 0.5 degree centigrade reduction by taking one single step together as countries — each doing different things perhaps at different times, but getting the job done,” said a release issued by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“If we continue to remember the high stakes for every country on Earth, the global transition to a clean energy economy is going to accelerate.”


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