What progress are we making to protect our planet?

On Earth Day, the Executive Director of Manitoba Ozone Protection Industry Association (MOPIA) reflects on the progress being made to decrease the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and the impact it will have on Manitoba.

Manitoba environmental activist reflects on progress made and what is to come

"It is estimated that HFCs will contribute up to 25 to 30 per cent of all greenhouse gases by 2050 if left unregulated or controlled internationally." (Beth Ipsen/Arctic Sounder/Associated Press)

As Earth Day comes and goes again for 2015, much more progress is needed to curve and mitigate climate change and ozone depletion.

The reality is that the change is slow, marked by international agreements inching forward due to the various geopolitical tensions — but without international agreements on these critical environmental issues, it seems we will never get anywhere.

Eventually, we will feel the positive impact of this global progress here in Manitoba.

The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, is the most successful international environmental treaty ever. Protecting our environment and human and animal health perhaps in the broadest perspective. There are 197 signatories to the protocol, including the Holy See and even Syria, that have committed to reducing and eliminating the production of substances that are both ozone-depleting substances and contribute to climate change.

This protocol has reduced global ozone depletion, which sees ripple effects through the decrease of skin cancers, cataracts, immune suppression and other harmful side effects from UV rays and climate change.

Coincidentally, in Bangkok this week, signatories to the Montreal Protocol are meeting at the Open-Ended Working Group. This rendezvous includes Canada, which, in co-operation with Mexico and the United States, has collectively introduced an important amendment to be considered for discussion at the next Montreal Protocol meeting scheduled for November 2015 in Dubai. 

Reduction of HFCs an international issue

The proposed amendment would add hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to the protocol and recommend a global phase-down of this potent greenhouse gas.

It is estimated that HFCs will contribute up to 25 to 30 per cent of all greenhouse gases by 2050 if left unregulated or controlled internationally.

This alone would have a major influence on our future climate. Domestically, Environment Canada is leading a current initiative to restrict the use of HFCs and is in the consultation stage with stakeholders.

HFCs are used primarily in refrigeration and air conditioning systems as the refrigerant allowing the equipment to cool or blow cold air. Examples are auto air conditioner, fridges, freezers, beverage vending machines, office and building air conditioners and geothermal heat pumps to name a few.

HFCs are contained within the equipment but when hoses or fittings in the equipment fail, the HFCs escape into the air and begin their destructive path in the environment. 

HFCs are also used in many other applications such as solvents, some foams, within pharmaceutical products, and as a carrier gas in various aerosol products from air horns to body sprays and computer dusting consumer products.

Local advancements 

Locally, the Manitoba Ozone Protection Industry Association (MOPIA) was created in 1994 and is unique to the world as a not-for-profit, self-sufficient (no dependence on annual government funds), multi-stakeholder organization.

MOPIA provides a multitude of services to the industry sectors affected by provincial, national and international halocarbon regulations. This includes technician training and certification for persons working with regulated refrigerants and equipment in our province, to awareness and public outreach via different platforms (i.e. web, on-site presentations). 

MOPIA's responsibilities will increase as inevitable regulatory restrictions on HFCs are implemented and as the path to new technologies continues to emerge. Technicians will have to become aware and trained on the innovations of the new equipment which will include potentially new safety protocols and techniques for servicing the various equipment.

Manitobans will begin to see new types of refrigerants emerge in their air conditioners and other systems as the pressure to restrict HFCs becomes a reality.

Carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) have emerged as the leading refrigerant alternatives. In fact, some automobiles already have HFOs such as the Jeep Cherokee and some GM models. Red River College has among the first HFC-free refrigerant beverage vending machines actively in use.

Refrigerators may also soon contain hydrocarbons, as is common practice in much of Asia and Europe. Some of these refrigerants and equipment are designed to be more energy efficient too, leading to multiple environmental benefits.

Consumers should be aware that the price of the new equipment and refrigerants may initially be significantly higher, at least until manufacturers of equipment ramp up production and global competition and market forces become prominent.

Manitoba contractors and auto shops will be faced with challenges such as the purchase of new recovery equipment and possible training for their service technicians.

All these measures are for purposes of progress and the protection of our environment.

Mark Miller is the executive director of MOPIA ​a government-appointed multi-stakeholder, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization designed to foster environmental protection of the stratospheric ozone layer and to mitigate climate change.