Even two decades back, we were not so meticulously concerned about the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). However, it goes without saying that in the era of COVID-19 pandemic, we have been compelled by the situation to focus on this area more stringently. Whether the third wave of COVID-19 pandemic will attack us or not, sooner or later, at this juncture those are not exactly the primary concerns, rather than that we have to be more concerned about the future – about the sustainability of the entire human civilization. We need to improve both outdoor and indoor air quality, however, tackling the outdoor air quality is much tougher than managing the indoor air quality in a short span of time, thus, it is quite logical to address the aspects of IAQ first.
Recently, through the Daikin Group Sustainability report 2021, Masanori Togawa, President and CEO of Daikin Industries, Ltd., has communicated his observation. He finds, “Fiscal 2020 was a year like few others. Society experienced some of the largest and quickest changes that we have ever seen. The COVID -19 completely transformed the way we live and work, heightening everyone’s awareness toward safety and security. The pandemic has also had major impacts on corporate activities. At the same time, the movement toward decarbonisation picked up steam as well. Governments including Japan’s are releasing decarbonisation policy that strongly urges the business world to set and achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.”
The 2021 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change coincides with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change 26th Conference of the Parties COP 26, at which countries are facing pressure to realise the ambition of the Paris Agreement to keep the global average temperature rise to 1•50C – and to mobilise the financial resources required for all countries to have an effective climate response.
A few notable facts from the Lancet’s 2021 report
The report states: “Record temperatures in 2020 resulted in a new high of 3•1 billion more person-days of heatwave exposure among people older than 65 years and 626 million more person-days affecting children younger than one year, compared to the annual average for the 1986–2005 baseline. Looking to 2021, people older than 65 years or younger than 1 year, along with people facing social disadvantages, were the most affected by the record-breaking temperatures of over 400C in the Pacific Northwest areas of the USA and Canada in June, 2021— an event that would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change. Although the exact number will not be known for several months, hundreds of people have died prematurely from the heat. Furthermore, populations in countries with low and medium levels of UN-defined Human Development Index (HDI) have had the biggest increase in heat vulnerability during the past 30 years, with risks to their health further exacerbated by the low availability of cooling mechanisms and urban green space.
Agricultural workers in countries with low and medium HDI were among the worst affected by exposure to extreme temperatures, bearing almost half of the 295 billion potential work hours lost due to heat in 2020. These lost work hours could have devastating economic consequences to these already vulnerable workers — data in this year’s report shows that the average potential earnings lost in countries in the low HDI group were equivalent to 4–8% of the national gross domestic product.
Through these effects, rising average temperatures, and altered rainfall patterns, climate change is beginning to reverse years of progress in tackling the food and water insecurity that still affects the most underserved populations around the world, denying them an essential aspect of good health. During any given month in 2020, up to 19% of the global land surface was affected by extreme drought; a value that had not exceeded 13% between 1950 and 1999. In parallel with drought, warm temperatures are affecting the yield potential of the world’s major staple crops — a 6•0% reduction for maize; 3•0% for winter wheat; 5•4% for soybean; and 1•8% for rice in 2020, relative to 1981–2010 — exposing the rising risk of food insecurity.
Adding to these health hazards, the changing environmental conditions are also increasing the suitability for the transmission of many water-borne, air-borne, food-borne, and vector-borne pathogens. Although socioeconomic development, public health interventions, and advances in medicine have reduced the global burden of infectious disease transmission, climate change could undermine eradication efforts.”
How much realistic are our measures?
While the dreadful observations mentioned above are enough to draw a vivid picture of the current situation, the burning questions that occur at this point are – what is to be done to mitigate further deterioration and are we on the track?
The Lancet report categorically shows the drawbacks of our efforts. It states, “To meet the Paris Agreement goals and prevent catastrophic levels of global warming, global greenhouse gas emissions must reduce by half within a decade. However, at the current pace of reduction, it would take more than 150 years for the energy system to fully decarbonise, and the unequal response between countries is resulting in an uneven realisation of the health benefits of a low-carbon transition.
The use of public funds to subsidise fossil fuels is partly responsible for the slow decarbonisation rate. Of the 84 countries reviewed, 65 were still providing an overall subsidy to fossil fuels in 2018, and in many cases subsidies were equivalent to substantial proportions of the national health budget and could have been redirected to deliver net benefits to health and wellbeing. Furthermore, all the 19 countries whose carbon pricing policies outweighed the effect of any fossil fuels subsidies came from the very high HDI group.
Although countries in the very high HDI group have collectively made the most progress in the decarbonisation of the energy system, they are still the main contributors to CO2 emissions through the local production of goods and services, accounting for 45% of the global total. With a slower pace of decarbonisation and poorer air quality regulations than countries in the very high HDI group, the medium and high HDI country groups produce the most fine particle matter (PM2•5) emissions and have the highest rates of air pollution-related deaths, which are about 50% higher than the total deaths in the very high HDI group. The low HDI group, with comparatively lower amounts of industrial activity than in the other groups, has a local production that contributes to only 0•7% of global CO2 emissions, and has the lowest mortality rate from ambient air pollution. However, with only 12% of its inhabitants relying on clean fuels and technologies for cooking, the health of these populations is still at risk from dangerously high concentrations of household air pollution. Even in the most affluent countries, people in the most deprived areas overwhelmingly bear the burden of health effects from exposure to air pollution. These findings expose the health costs of the delayed and unequal mitigation response and underscore the millions of deaths to be prevented annually through a low-carbon transition that prioritises the health of all populations.”
A few steps from the HVAC-R equipment manufacturers
There are many measures and targets to reduce pollution that have been thought of and are being implemented in the HVAC-R manufacturing companies in the (apparently) post-COVID era, however, due to the obvious reason of space restriction, only a few of them will be discussed here.
Recently, Whirlpool Corporation has announced a global commitment to reach a net zero emissions target in its plants and operations by 2030. The commitment will cover more than 30 of Whirlpool Corporation’s manufacturing sites and its large distribution centres around the world, spanning all direct and power-related emissions.
Whirlpool Corporation has also committed to a 20% reduction in emissions linked to the use of its products across the globe by 2030, compared to 2016 levels. This target has been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative, and builds on the company’s 60% reduction in emissions across all scopes since 2005.
Stressing on their commitment, Marc Bitzer, Chairman and CEO of Whirlpool Corporation, said, “Whirlpool Corporation has a longstanding commitment to sustainability. Our net zero commitment is an important milestone in our ongoing effort to improve life at home by protecting our planet and communities.”
Daikin has established an interim target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This target has aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the entire lifecycle of their products by 50% or more in 2030 compared to BAU (BAU: Business as Usual; here BAU refers to emissions in case of normal business growth without the implementation of countermeasures), with fiscal 2019 as base year.
In the words of Togawa (President and CEO, Daikin), “In addition to reducing energy usage during manufacturing, expanding the adoption of environmentally conscious products, and expanding heat pump space and water heating businesses, we will work to build and commercialize refrigerant recovery, reclamation, and destruction systems, while developing new environment-related businesses that create energy and new technologies for the decomposition, recovery, and reuse of CO2.
Mitsubishi Electric has achieved a 36% reduction from the FY2001 level in greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions generated during use of the company’s products, thereby exceeding the original 30% reduction target. This was accomplished through technological innovations and the development of highly energy-efficient products. As for CO2 emissions from manufacturing operations, Mitsubishi Electric’s investments in energy conservation at each manufacturing site led to a 56% reduction from the FY1991 level, significantly better than the original 30% target.
Regarding the final waste disposal rate, the company and domestic affiliates lowered their rate to 0.02% (target: less than 0.1%) and overseas affiliates achieved a rate of 0.15% (target: less than 0.5%). By reducing the sizes and weights of its products, Mitsubishi Electric has reduced its resource inputs by an average of 43% across in 64 product groups compared to the FY2001 level, which significantly surpassed the original 30% target.
In addition, water consumption per unit of sales was reduced by 20% from the FY2011 level, double the initial target of 10% (1% annually). This was achieved by continuously measuring the amount of water used and reused at domestic and overseas bases and horizontally adopting best practices to reduce consumption. Furthermore, Mitsubishi Electric upgraded its plastic recycling technology for expanded closed-loop recycling in which plastic collected from home appliances is reused in the company’s own manufactured home appliances. As a result, the company successfully raised its ratio of recycled mixed plastic to high-purity plastic in home appliance recycling from 6% in FY2011 to 80% at present.
Awareness has grown manifold and actions to prevent further deterioration of global climate has mushroomed in the COVID-19 era. However, we are already too late. Even now many companies have to boost up their activities to achieve the less than 1.50C goal. Also, all the nations have to work together.
Eliminating the causes is much more important than attempting to nullify the effects. As COVID-19 era has initiated the practice of ‘work-from-home’ in many cases, we have to be more careful about the indoor environment. But unless we prevent the deterioration of the external or actual environment, the cost of maintenance of the indoor environment (artificial) will go on increasing.
Thus, we should initiate best practices at all levels – and of course, as the HVAC-R industry is in some or other way connected to all other industries, its success will show the path to all others. Thus, we have to transform our thought processes, goals and speed up actions to be sustainable.
By P. K. Chatterjee (PK)