The government is stepping up efforts to reduce Japan’s emissions of substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were widely used as a refrigerant and aerosol propellant before being banned under a climate treaty signed in 1987.

The government will take steps to promote the recovery of CFC substitutes from products such as air conditioners and refrigerators used in businesses and industries, the main sources of these heat-trapping gases.

Japan has a clear duty to slash its steadily growing emissions of replacements for CFCs, particularly hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which contribute to global warming.

The Montreal Protocol, which came into effect in 1989, has led to a global phase-out of CFCs that were depleting the Earth’s ozone layer, which shields the planet from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet radiation.

The substitutes to CFCs do not harm the stratospheric ozone layer but are hundreds to over 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in accelerating planetary warming.

Increasing emissions of these greenhouse gases will offset the climate benefit of reductions in CO2 emissions.

In response to this problem, the Montreal Protocol was amended in 2016 to reduce the use of HFCs. The amendment came into force on Jan. 1.

Under the amendment, Japan, like other industrial nations, is required to reduce the production and consumption of HFCs by 85 percent by 2036.

The principal challenge for Japan’s quest to phase down HFCs is low recovery rates, which have been languishing below 40 percent in recent years.

The government’s recovery rate targets--50 percent in 2020 and 70 percent in 2030--appear to be becoming increasingly harder to achieve.

Many of the businesses using fridges or involved in waste disposal do not recognize the importance of recovering the greenhouse gases and show no qualms about disposing of products containing them without taking the step.

That means huge amounts of HFCs are spewed into the atmosphere instead of being destroyed as they should be.

Experts have pointed out that the penalties against violations prescribed by the law to curb fluorocarbon emissions as well as the authorities of regulators concerning the issue are too weak to ensure the effectiveness of the regulations.

Recently, a joint advisory council of experts for the Environment Ministry and the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry proposed a package of measures to tighten the regulations on HFCs.

The proposed measures include imposing a fine on every violation of the law and banning waste disposal firms from dealing with products without HFC recovery certificates. They would also empower prefectural governments to make on-the-spot inspections at building demolition work sites.

A bill to revise the law to introduce these measures will be submitted to the Diet during the regular session that starts in late January.

The bill represents a first step toward effective regulations on HFCs. There is a separate law to regulate CFC substitutes used in household electric appliances and automobiles. The recovery rates of all these compounds need to be raised steadily.

But there is a limit to the climate benefit of promoting the recovery of these gases from products. Achieving the target of an 85 percent cut by 2036 requires replacing HFCs with climate-friendly alternatives.

There are various natural refrigerants that are drawing growing attention as possible substitutes for HFCs, including ammonia, CO2, hydrocarbons, air and water.

Despite higher costs and other hurdles for using them, certain retailers and beverage makers in Japan are already beginning to use fridges and vending machines using such natural refrigerants.

The government should provide solid policy support for such efforts.

Japan can play an important role in supporting global efforts to stem the rise in temperatures on the planet by exporting technologies and systems to reduce fluorocarbon emissions.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 20