EU scales back planned F-gas bans, opts for phase-out

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The EU has abandoned plans to ban global warming fluorinated gases from Europe’s commercial and industrial refrigerators, opting largely for a ‘phase-down’ approach intended to reduce the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions to a third of today’s levels by 2030.

Isaac Valero, a spokesman for EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, said that the package was “the best decision under the circumstances”.

Hedegaard herself told a conference in Brussels on 6 November that “when you can make a ban that is cost efficient and solves more problems than it creates, then that will be part of the tools that should be in our legislation”.  

But the bans in the final proposal were largely symbolic (see below).

An earlier draft proposed banning F-gases from all Europe’s refrigeration equipment by 2020, as EurActiv revealed last month. But it was heavily criticised by the chemicals industry, which argued that the emissions savings could be met with lower-emitting, and cheaper, F-gases.

Andrea Voigt, director of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), which represents Europe's heating and cooling industry, welcomed the EU’s phase-down strategy, describing it as “the most cost-effective and flexible measure to reduce direct emissions”.

"EPEE fully backs the Commission’s pledge to introduce a phase-down mechanism," EPEE said in a statement, adding it expected "lively" discussions in the EU Council of Ministers, given that the proposal "also contains some HFC bans".

Companies such as DuPont and Honeywell have spent more than $100 million (€78.4 million) in developing new gases – HFCs, HFOs and blended variants – which have a global warming potential (gwp) that can be counted in the hundreds. By contrast, traditional F-gases, such as Sulphur Hexafluoride, can have a gwp 22,800 times greater than carbon dioxide, which constitutes the baseline measurement of 1.

But natural refrigerants such as ammonia, propane and carbon dioxide itself  typically have a gwp of 0-5 and environmentalists had hoped that Brussels would do more to incentivise their use in the legislation.

Environmental groups: 'Missed opportunity'

Environmental campaigners were left bitter at a perceived industry pushback which they claimed had robbed the new proposal of its teeth. “We see this as a missed opportunity,” said Alasdair Cameron, a spokesman for the Environmental Investigation Agency.

“The phase out is better than nothing but the Commission has been unable to find the ambition necessary to achieve the transformation we need, or meet the emissions reductions we require,” he told EurActiv.

F-gases have been used to substitute for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) since the Montreal Protocol began phasing them out in 1987, before their global warming side-effects were known about.  Their use has grown by more than 60% since then.  

In 2005, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that the built-up concentration of F-gases in the atmosphere accounted for 17% of the total human contribution to global warming.

F-gases probably account for around 1%-2% of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions today, but the US National Academy of Sciences says that if nothing is done, that figure could rise to between 9%-19% by 2050.

New proposals

The new proposals would, if adopted, introduce:

  • A cut to 21% of current F-gas emissions by 2030.
  • A gradually tightening cap to phase down use of the substances.
  • A ban on the use of F-gases with a gwp >150 for domestic refrigeration by 2015, although this is largely symbolic as few of these use F-gases anymore.
  • Prohibition on the use of small refrigerator units in retail outlets with an F-gas gwp of >2500 by 2017, and of >150 by 2020.
  • A ban on hermetically-sealed movable room air conditioning appliances with F-gas gwp’s of >150 from 2020.
  • Banning HFC-23 use in fire retardants, and extending the ban on Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6) use for magnesium die-casting to facilities using <850 kg a year.  
  • A ban on servicing equipment with F-gases, and on the import or export of equipment that has been pre-charged with F-gases to hermetically-sealed equipment.

Andrea Voigt said that she was “very concerned” with this latter prohibition. “We recommend a quota and reporting system,” she said, for reasons of cost and energy efficiency.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, complain that the bans cover a relatively small proportion of the F-gas industry and that phase downs are notoriously different to implement and police.

'Different opinions' in the Commission

EurActiv understands that the EU’s climate directorate relaxed the proposed bans, after facing internal opposition from other EU directorates, following industry pressure at the tail-end of an epic lobby battle.

“There have been different opinions and perspectives inside the Commission,” said Marc Chasserot, the director of Shecco, which represents the natural refrigerants industry.

“It is no secret that industry has been lobbying very strongly on this, trying to protect their market share and market access for their chemicals,” Cameron agreed. “It’s clearly a powerful industry, and they’ll seek to protect their bottom line.”

According to transparency campaigners at the Corporate Europe Observatory, some 353 industrial lobbyists have been pressing the case for F-gases in Brussels on behalf of 111 companies, 52% of which registered in the last quarter of 2011.

While the pro-natural refrigerant lobby had a lobby budget of around €3.1 million, 100 of the 111 industry groups listed in the EU’s transparency register, had a declared war chest of €23.9 million.

Hedgeaard was tetchy on 6 November when EurActiv asked whether she was coming under industrial pressure. “Are you really asking me whether, when the Commission regulates anything, there is pushback from parts of industry?” she said and rolled her eyes. Then she walked off.

The lobby battle will now move on to the European Parliament and European Council where attempts to amend the regulation are likely in the months ahead.

Positions: 

Graeme Fox, President of the European Association of refrigeration, air conditioning and heatpump contractors (AREA), said: "we have promoted a ban on pre-charging since the beginning of the Regulation's review, simply because it is the most efficient measure from both an environmental and policing point of view. We are delighted our proposal was taken on board by not just DG CLIMA but the entire Commission despite the pressure of these last few weeks."

There was less enthusiasm from environmental campaigners. Clare Perry, a campaigner for the Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) said: “We welcome the confirmation that Europe will begin phasing-out HFCs; however, the proposal is a missed opportunity and shows all the hallmarks of heavy industry lobbying. More ambitious draft proposals that were leaked previously have been watered down, bans have been removed and what have left is lacking in ambition.”

Industry reactions though were more fulsome. Andrea Voigt, Director General of the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) said: “If we are serious about reducing emissions, then we need a measure that leaves the choice open for selecting the best solutions for each and every application, everywhere in Europe. There is no perfect refrigerant! With this in mind, we fully support the Commission’s intention to gradually phase-down HFCs.”

Timeline: 
  • 2015: A ban on use of F-gases with gwps over 150 from domestic refrigerators
  • 2017: A ban on cars with a global warming potential (gwp) of more than 150, and on small refrigeration nuits in retail outlets with a gwp of 2500+
  • 2020: Ban on small refrigerator units in retail outlets with gwp's above 150, and of movable air conditioning appliances with a gwp greater than 150
  • 2030: Binding 21% decrease in F-gas emissions as measured against the 2008-2011 baseline
External links: 

European Commission

US Environmental Protection Agency

Business & Industry

NGOs and think-tanks

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