Commercial refrigeration units used in support of the COP26 climate change meeting in Glasgow, U.K., over the past two weeks were found to use high-GWP f-gases – a practice at odds with the mission of the talks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as the carbon-neutral ambitions of the host U.K. government.

The discovery of the mobile f-gas fridges – located throughout COP26 “blue zone” (main conference area) –  was first reported last week by COP26 ran from November 1-13, with a final pact issued on November 13. 

The report included photos of refrigerator labels taken at COP26 showing that one open grab-and-go display case with beverages and sandwiches used R449A (100-year GWP 1,400; 20-year GWP 3,100), while a closed fridge employed R452A (100-year GWP 2,141). Moreover, both refrigerants consist of about one-quarter HFO-1234yf, which converts to trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) in the atmosphere. This TFA, which is brought to Earth via rainfall, is a highly durable chemical that is the subject of possible regulation in Europe and  considered potentially harmful to human health and the environment over time.

The photos were taken by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which also provided them to 

According to the labels, both fridges were supplied by Lowe Rental, Uttoxeter, U.K. The grab-and-go unit was manufactured by Italian OEM De Rigo Refrigeration.

“Using high global warming refrigerants in a climate conference is like pouring gasoline on a burning house,” Avipsa Mahapatra, the climate change lead at the U.S.-based division of the EIA, told “It reveals the U.K. government’s wanton disregard towards walking the talk and doesn’t inspire confidence in the due diligence applied to ensuring a low carbon footprint event.”

Asked by whether widely available propane (R290)-based plug-in cabinets could have been used instead at COP26, Mahapatra replied via email, “Yes, that is correct, there’s no excuse to use fridges with high-GWP HFCs, especially in Europe!”

De Rigo Refrigeration, manufacturer of the R449A grab-and-go cabinet, also makes similar R290 units

Grab-and-go refrigerated cabinet at COP26, which uses R449A.

While reducing f-gas emissions was not the central focus of COP26, the event did feature many meetings focused on sustainable cooling. Some countries are incorporating reductions in HFCs in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), their overall plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, many of the countries at COP26 have ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which calls for a global phase down of HFCs over the next 25 years.

Refrigerant emissions from the plug-in display cases during COP26 would be expected to be minimal. However, cases that use HFCs release the gases during manufacture and disposal, as well as through leaks during the lifetime of the appliance.

COP26’s Carbon Management Plan

Efforts to minimize GHG emissions during COP26 were outlined in a Carbon Management Plan (CMP) assembled by consulting group Arup on behalf of the U.K. government.

The CMP indicated that the U.K. was “committed to delivering a carbon neutral COP26,” and explained how that goal would be achieved.

The majority of emissions at COP26, the report said, were estimated to come from international aviation, “equating to approximately 60% of the baseline footprint.” Other large contributions would be due to:

● Accommodation for delegates and participants

● Policing and security for the event

● Transportation to and from venues during the event

● Venue energy, water and waste management

● Temporary venue space construction and transportation of materials

● Venue catering

In regard to refrigeration, the scope of COP26’s CMP included “venue energy, water, waste, catering, refrigerant emissions during COP26,” the ARUP report said. 

The report also noted that COP26 would be “avoiding and reducing emissions against a business-as-usual approach, including engaging with delivery partners and suppliers to innovate, seek, identify and implement opportunities to reduce the scale of GHG impacts to the extent feasible.”

Arup did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“There’s no excuse to use fridges with high-GWP HFCs, especially in Europe!”

Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA

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