Science is continuing to find new connections between global warming and the ozone hole ‒ and skin cancer ‒ especially here in Australia. That’s why fulfilling obligations to the Montreal Protocol is so important.

Australia was one of the first countries to ratify the Montreal Protocol, widely considered as the most successful environment protection agreement.

The international treaty is designed to protect the ozone layer by progressively phasing out the production and use of numerous substances responsible for ozone depletion, targeting 96 chemicals in thousands of applications across more than 240 industrial sectors.

In many cases, Australia is well ahead of the protocol’s requirements and has met or exceeded all of its phase out obligations. With respect to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC), Australia will largely phase out consumption by 2016, four years ahead of schedule.

This will see Australia consume 61 per cent less HCFC in the period to 2020 than permitted under the Montreal Protocol, even after the parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed in 2007 to advance HCFC phase out globally.

montreal protocolWithin the built environment, the phasing out of refrigerants used in HVAC systems has been a priority. HVACR energy use in the built environment at over 50 per cent of its total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. More than a million new air conditioning units have been installed each year in Australia, a level of demand which is fed by the expectations of householders, the workforce and consumers for air conditioning services to be ubiquitous in urban and city buildings.

With these HCFCs gone, everybody wins except the manufacturers of fluorocarbon refrigerants, because the alternative refrigerants are more energy efficient, lower cost and have very low global warming potential.

For the general public, this means refrigerators and air conditioning will cost less to run and repair. It also means that that everything we buy that uses refrigeration or air conditioning (HVACR) will in time become less costly because the new HVACR technology and equipment will be more efficient.

Phasing out R22, a manufactured fluorocarbon compound designed for use as the working fluid in refrigerative systems, is top of the list. The industry, the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Airconditioning and Heating (AIRAH) says, needs to be prepared.

R22 is a commonly used refrigerant gas contained within many air conditioning and refrigeration systems manufactured prior to 2005. The R22 gas is contained inside the sealed refrigeration system. The R22 “charge” makes the cooling process possible for air conditioning (in summer), and can also enable heating (in winter) for some air conditioners. It is also used in commercial and industrial refrigeration.

In 2012 and 2013, the phase-out schedule reduced imports to only 16 per cent of pre-phase-out importation levels.

In 2014 and 2015 the quota was cut a further 75 per cent – down to four per cent of pre-phase-out imports by 2016 (2.5 ODP tonnes).

The import quota from 2016 to 2030 will be stable at 2.5 ODP tonnes until final phase-out in 2030. From 2030 onward, there will be no allowable imports of the refrigerant.

“Over the next 15 years, the amount of R22 available for servicing systems will dwindle, until complete phase-out in 2030,” said AIRAH CEO Phil Wilkinson. “We all need to be informed and prepared, in order to provide system owners with a management plan that exposes them to the least financial risk.”

Wilkinson added that it was crucial that building owners, facilities managers, system operators, and technical service providers are all on the same page when it comes to the phase-out.

“The continued use of R22 presents a risk to owners or managers of building assets, with the reduced availability pushing up the price of the refrigerant, where available,” he said. “Indeed, availability of the refrigerant is expected to be highly constrained from 2016 onwards.”