Retailers have a key role in countering global warming

As major international retailers and manufacturers met in Paris this week for the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Global Summit 2014, EIA campaigners at the event stressed the importance of its members publicly reaffirming their commitment to begin phasing out climate-destroying refrigerants and to announce the steps they intend to take towards this objective.

This call was answered in part on Wednesday when the Board renewed its commitment to begin phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in new refrigeration installations as of 2015, while also calling on global leaders to secure an ambitious and legally binding global climate deal.

The CGF – an industry body comprising more than 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and stakeholders from 70 countries – first announced its intention to move away from HFCs at the Cancun Climate Conference in November 2010. Worldwide headlines welcomed the pledge as an important step to help fight the growing threat of climate change.

Four years on, EIA’s review of the status quo has found that while significant progress towards implementing that pledge has been made by some companies, others are not yet out of the starting blocks.

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.HFCs are refrigerants with global warming potentials (GWP) many hundreds to thousands of times higher than carbon dioxide (CO2). For example, HFC-404A, the most commonly used HFC in commercial refrigeration, is almost 4,000 times more potent than CO2. This means that just 1kg of HFC-404A leaking into the atmosphere is equivalent to four tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Supermarkets account for about 30 per cent of worldwide emissions of HFCs as large quantities of chemicals leak from their refrigeration equipment. At company level, HFC emissions can amount to as much as 40 per cent of a retailer’s carbon footprint.

Carrefour of France, the second largest retailer in the world, has pledged to stop using HFC-based equipment in new store installations from 2015 and currently has more than 115 systems operating on CO2 refrigeration.

Tesco in the UK currently has 194 systems using non-HFC or ‘natural’ refrigerants and has pledged to roll out these systems in all new large store builds and in a third of its Express stores.

AEON of Japan has pledged that all new store builds from 2015 will use only HFC-free refrigeration and has installed CO2 refrigeration technology in a number of new store builds since 2012. The company has pledged to be completely HFC-free by 2030.

Despite the headway being made by some companies, a significant number of CGF Board members appear to be unprepared to begin phasing out HFCs in 2015.

This year is pivotal in the shift away from HFCs: the European Union recently agreed a landmark revision of its F-Gas Regulation which bans the use of HFCs with a GWP higher than 2,500 in both new refrigeration equipment and for servicing as of 2020. From 2022, HFCs above 150 GWP will be banned for use in centralised commercial refrigeration systems.

More than 125 nations now support an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to instigate a phase-down of the production and consumption of HFCs, with agreements last year between the US and China and a statement of support from the leaders of the G20 at their St Petersburg summit.

With members in countries around the world and a business heavily dependent on refrigeration, the CGF has unrivalled power to affect the worldwide demand for HFCs.

EIA believes the CGF can and should use its influence to effect lasting change, particularly given increasing international support for action to eliminate the use of HFCs.

To this end, it is imperative that all CGF members publicly reaffirm their individual commitment to begin phasing out HFCs from 2015 and announce the steps they intend to take towards this objective.