Sectoral f-gas approach needed to strengthen green growth

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

An ambitious f-gas regulation offers an excellent opportunity to incentivise green growth, argues Maxime Bureau.

Maxime Bureau is the director of government and public affairs at 3M, a multi-national manufacturing company.

Although the current EU debate on fluorinated gas (or f-gas) legislation focuses on opposition between the refrigeration industry and NGOs, an agreement between Parliament and Council for a strong sectoral approach would bring significant greenhouse gas savings, investments and jobs to Europe.

An outsider reading the reports on the current revision of the EU regulation on f-gases could easily be forgiven for thinking that industry and NGOs were on opposite sides of the argument. A closer look reveals that the two sides have a surprising amount in common.  

Fluorinated gases have been used in various applications, such as refrigeration, air-conditioning, fire protection and electrical switchgears. The emissions of this group of potent greenhouse gases (HFCs and SF6) with a high Global Warming Potential (gwp) have increased by 60% over the past twenty years.

Taking up the challenge, innovative companies across Europe have been investing in sustainable alternatives to high gwp technologies. In the fire protection sector, for example, cost-efficient sustainable fire suppression systems replacing HFCs are widely used across Europe, thus enabling a more than 99% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to HFCs.

In addition to their robust environmental credentials, these alternatives demonstrate excellent fire control performance. They are referred to as 'clean agents' because of their ability to suppress a fire without leaving residues or harming the valuable assets being protected, such as high valued electronics in data centres or archival documents in museums and libraries.

Promising innovations are also underway with the development of alternatives to sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) in medium voltage switchgears by major manufacturers in Europe. The SF6 free switchgear is expected to be available on the European market well before 2020. What makes this significant is that SF6 is the most potent greenhouse gas with a gwp nearly 23,000 times greater than CO2.

SF6 remains in the atmosphere for over 3,000 years. The proposals of the European Commission and Parliament’s environment committee in June are steps in the right direction and provide a good basis for finding a proportionate agreement with the European Council.

While the Council’s recently adopted position is conservative, the sectoral approach by Parliament offers a reasonable way to find a compromise as well as pick the low-hanging fruit in sectors where alternatives already exist and are widely available on the European market.

Clear incentives and deadlines on f-gases are needed to stimulate further investments in research, development and deployment of new technologies and allow the market to transition to sustainable alternatives.

In these difficult economic times, an ambitious f-gas regulation offers a great opportunity for the European Institutions to immediately provide sustainable benefits to the European citizens, and enhance the international competitiveness of innovative companies producing in Europe by encouraging them to invest in research and development, and retain high skilled jobs in Europe.

European Commission

US Environmental Protection Agency

Business & Industry

NGOs and think-tanks

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