New US President Joe Biden didn’t hang about once he was finally behind the desk in the Oval Office. He quickly signed a raft of executive orders to start unpicking the Trump legacy including returning the US to the Paris Agreement within 24 hours of taking office.
Even more specific for our sector was his decision to seek the Senate’s consent to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to speed up the global phase down of HFC refrigerants. It has already been ratified by 112 other countries.
The fact that the new administration has such a detailed fix on this issue shows that the climate crisis really is at the heart of its policy agenda.
President Biden is committed to “building back better” while simultaneously reducing the country’s environmental impact. He sees this as a huge employment opportunity for US citizens and a way to restore the country’s reputation overseas.
“Domestic action must go hand in hand with United States international leadership, aimed at significantly enhancing global action. Together, we must listen to science and meet the moment,” a White House statement said.
China and India – the other two of the ‘big three’ HFC consumers – have yet to ratify the amendment, but Biden’s move will certainly put them under pressure to step up.
A register of competent people would improve refrigerant management
Meanwhile, over here in the UK Brexit could turn out to be the unlikely vehicle we have been waiting for to tackle another stubborn impediment to more responsible use of refrigerant gases.
While we will continue to mirror the rules set by the European F-Gas regulations, Brexit does give us the freedom to go further by setting up a national register of individual operatives.
This has long been regarded as a way to tackle the problem of unqualified people carrying out sub-standard work by making it harder for them to buy equipment and refrigerant.
However, it was never a priority for the EU and was dropped from the original plans for the F-Gas regulations.
Most European countries don’t have the same problem we have because they have much stricter rules about who can set up a business.
Here the barriers to entry into technical professions are very low. Sadly, not actually being able to do the job doesn’t always stop someone winning the job!
Some individual engineers can be traced through the mandatory REFCOM register of companies, but the industry has a very transient workforce and operatives change employers frequently.
Having a register of competent people would help us improve refrigerant management, but it is also an important safety matter.
Some of the new gases being used to replace HFCs are flammable. None of these new lower GWP (global warming potential) substances represent a serious challenge to experienced and qualified engineers who have updated their skills, but the risk posed by untrained and uncertified installers is a real cause for concern.
We need to have a system for making sure refrigerant and equipment does not get into the wrong hands. Currently it is far too easy for DIYers and unqualified installers to buy them – particularly online.
A mandatory certification scheme would help because suppliers could only sell to those on the register.
Online forums have helped REFCOM identify a few instances of poor standard work and led to prosecutions, but currently the only register of operatives is the voluntary one run by the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board (ACRIB).
Creating a mandatory scheme would also underpin the wider push for higher professional standards and improved training across the sector.
Many engineers have upskilled already by taking the BESA ACRIB Flammables training course, but there remain many thousands of engineers without the basic skills needed to transition safely and who should consider their training options this year.
The BESA Academy also offers an easy to access F-Gas Renewal course (six modules) online.
The Association speeded up its availability during the last Covid-19 lockdown as all the physical test centres were forced to close.
A good engineer will be able to do the whole course in five hours; take the test and get a new certificate – and all now without even having to leave the comfort of their own home.
Graeme Fox, CEng FInstR, head of technical at the BESA