The European Commission has drawn up a plan to outlaw planet-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in domestic refrigerators and freezers by 2015, and commercial coolers by 2020, under a draft regulation seen by EURACTIV.
HFC’s are a fluorinated gas (or F-gas) used to substitute for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) since the Montreal Protocol began phasing them out in 1987. They can also be up to 22,800 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
By 2030, the EU’s new package of bans, quotas, phase-downs, improved monitoring and leak prevention aims to cut HFC sales by 21% of today’s levels.
The use of HFCs in movable room air conditioning systems would also be banned from 2020.
“Regulation has a proven track record of success,” the Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies told EURACTIV. “There’s every likelihood that a measure of this kind will place European manufacturers at the forefront of worldwide development.”
The proposed new law would affect a global industry and is being fiercely contested in the corridors of the European Commission. It could yet change before it is unveiled in the next few weeks, as an epic lobby battle draws to a close.
The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), a business group representing the heating, cooling and refrigeration industry, is one of those lobbying the Commission.
Andrea Voigt, EPEE director, said she welcomed the phase-down principle contained in the Commission proposal but warned that attempts to ban imports could cause trade frictions. “The World Trade Organization is definitely an issue,” she told EURACTIV.
But Davies disagreed. “The WTO is usually a paper tiger,” he said, “so long as the rule applies to everyone equally.” The EU’s lawyers would have anticipated any challenges, he added.
In its current form, the draft regulation bans the sale or import of refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump equipment that has been “pre-charged” with HFCs abroad, such as domestic refrigerators, freezers, foams, aerosols, and solvents.
Sources say that any challenge is most likely to contend that this sets up a barrier against “like products” of foreign origin that could be found unjustifiable or arbitrary, although such a case would not be clean-cut.
Industry representatives contacted by EURACTIV said that they expected a challenge to the proposal in the WTO, and many were unhappy in principle with the idea of product prohibitions.
“We don’t see the necessity of adding any bans on top of a phase down,” Voigt said. “The big advantage of a phase down is that you can spread the cost and not suddenly be faced with the massive costs linked to a ban,” she said.
Up to 353 industry advocates have registered in Brussels, representing 111 companies all pushing the EU for favourable F-gas legislation, according to a report last month by Corporate Europe Observatory.
The paper, which was based only on voluntary declarations by industry groups, found that 52% of the companies had registered in the last quarter of 2011, including 14 European subsidiaries of the Japanese air conditioning giant Daikin.
Environmental groups and natural refrigerant companies have also lobbied hard, spending €3.1 million in a push for HFC bans and substitutions with alternative chillers such as ammonia, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide.
But these groups claim to be outgunned by 100 of the 111 industry groups listed in the EU’s transparency register, which have a total declared lobbying budget of €23.9 million.
The phase-out of CFCs cost one manufacturer about €100 million, a company representative told EURACTIV last year, and the price of phasing out HFCs would “probably be much higher,” he said.
“Lobbying against change is to be expected but once an agreement has been reached then industry delivers,” Davies said.
The draft regulation envisages an EU phase-down mechanism that gradually tightens a declining ‘cap’ on bulk HFCs coming onto the European market, with a freeze in 2015, a first cut in 2016, and then reductions to 21% of the levels sold in 2008-2011 by 2030.
The draft regulation says that “a general ban on the intentional and avoidable releases of F-gases should be introduced”.
Placing products containing HFCs on the market would be prohibited, where natural alternatives exist – such as ammonia, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide itself.
F-gases with a global warming potential (GWP) more than 2150 times greater than CO2 would be banned for the servicing or maintaining of refrigeration equipment, from 2018.
Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which has a GWP 22,800 times that of carbon dioxide, would be proscribed for use in trades such as magnesium die-casting and filling vehicle tyres.
An embargo would also be tagged on HFC-23s, which have a GWP 14,800 times greater than carbon dioxide and an atmospheric half life of 270 years. HFC-23s. One peer-reviewed report last year claimed that HFC-23 emissions in the EU were up to 140% greater than reported.
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.
But those figures are contested by industry associations, and whatever action the EU eventually takes to deal with the HFC issue could still face guerrilla action down the line.
“There will be a long process involving the European Parliament and member states before we come up with a final version,” said Tim Vink, a spokesman for Honeywell Fluorine.