Greenpeace seeks mainland deal for ozone-friendly refrigerators

John Kohut

THE international environmental group Greenpeace has made its first foray into China, with an expected agreement that could have the country producing the first ozone-friendly refrigerators in the developing world within the next year.

Greenpeace last year pioneered a new ''Greenfreeze'' technology with a company in east Germany.

Major German companies have since adopted the technology.

The German Government has now offered to provide funds for China to switch refrigerator production over to Greenfreeze technology, and an agreement is expected within the next few days, according to Tracy Heslop of the group's International Ozone Campaign.

''It's an enormous deal for Greenpeace,'' Ms Heslop said.

Greenfreeze replaces chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which destroy the stratospheric ozone layer, with hydrocarbons, which are ozone-friendly and have a minimal effect on the climate, according to Greenpeace.

China is a signatory to the 1991 Montreal Protocol which commits developed countries to phasing out CFCs by 1995 and developing countries to stop using them by 2006.

Ms Heslop said China wanted to be seen as fulfilling its international commitments, but there were other reasons the hydrocarbon technology was attracting interest.

Hydrocarbons are cheaper than CFCs by as much as 100 times, and can be produced in China as by-products of coal, oil and gas extractions, and refining, whereas CFCs have to be imported.

In addition, if it wants to export refrigerators to the developed world, where non-CFC refrigerators are on sale, China may find conversion necessary.

To date, the developed countries have been the biggest producers and users of CFCs - accounting for 95 per cent of world production and 85 per cent of consumption.

But, with living standards quickly rising in Asia, this region ''has potential to be a big problem'', Ms Heslop said.

''The real growth market [for refrigerants] is in developing countries, and China is the biggest CFC consumer [among them],'' Ms Heslop said.

China produces six million refrigerators each year, using about 63,000 tonnes of CFCs, or around seven times the amount used annually in the United Kingdom.

By the year 2030, China's annual refrigerator production is expected to climb to 46.4 million.

Ms Heslop said the German Government's offer was worth about four million marks (about HK$18.23 million).

Greenpeace and representatives of the German Government have spent the past few days in Beijing explaining hydrocarbon refrigeration to Chinese officials and companies. Once an agreement is signed, they expect China to start producing hydrocarbon refrigerants immediately.

''It's a matter of months before they start producing environmentally-free refrigerators,'' said a Greenpeace spokesman.