Climate: MEPs give F-gas bill a ‘green boost’

Tough new measures to control and ban greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning are on their way if EU lawmakers follow the opinion of the Parliament’s environment committee.

Member states could be allowed to adopt stricter national legislation to curb emissions of F-gases from fridges and air-conditioners if the Parliament follows the advice of its environment committee which came out on 11 October. 

In their vote on the report from Avril Doyle MEP (EPP-ED, Ireland), MEPs chose to base the regulation for so-called ‘stationary applications’ (fridges, air conditioning, etc.) solely on the environmental provisions of the EU treaty (article 175).

This means individual EU nations can adopt stricter legislation to reduce F-gases emissions than required under EU law, thereby potentially opening the way for manufacturers to have to adapt to different legislation as they sell their products across the EU.

Under the new version of the text, selective bans on F-gases will apply in the following way:

  • 1 January 2006: HFCs used in aerosols
  • 1 January 2006: SF6 as a trace gas
  • 1 January 2008: SF6 in all applications except switchgears
  • 1 January 2009: all F-gases in composite foams
  • 1 January 2010: all F-gases in stationary air-conditioning
  • 1 January 2010: HFCs in commercial and industrial refrigeration
  • Four years after entry into force: HFCs in household refrigeration

Moreover, MEPs recommended that substitutes to F-gases be used wherever they are available and safe from a technical and environmental point of view. 

On the separate directive on car’s air conditioning systems, no major changes were introduced. The bill provides for the following:

  • Between 2011 and 2013: phase-out of the use of HFC-134a.
  • By 2017: Every new vehicle will have to use alternatives

Environment committee rapporteur Avril Doyle MEP (EPP-ED, Ireland) said that an environment legal base (article 175) is the only viable solution as the purpose of the draft regulation is to fulfill the EU's Kyoto targets on climate change. Ms. Doyle was comforted in this opinion by the Parliament's legal service.

Doyle told EURACTIV: "The vote on the Regulation underlines the concerns of the Environment Committee about the lack of legal certainty surrounding the Common Position's dual legal base. It was considered to be a politically expedient compromise by the Council that will not withstand scrutiny in the European Court of Justice. It is clear that the predominant purpose of the Regulation is to contribute towards meeting our Kyoto targets and a quick read of the recitals confirms this beyond any doubt".

The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) - an organisation representing refrigeration equipment manufacturers relying on HFCs -, has deplored the vote in the Environment Committee as "a step back for sensible policy making on climate change". 

EPEE argues that the amendments "will make a range of appliances using F-gases illegal without consideration of their likely negative impact, high costs and consequences". It adds that introducing such bans is "disproportionate and technologically prescriptive".

"We urge the European Parliament as a whole to reject the environment committee's report on F-gases," said EPEE Director General Friedrich Busch.

Greenpeace hailed the vote as "a victory in the battle against global warming", saying the Environment Committee improved the bill in two major ways:

  • First, the Committee introduced a phase-out of F-gases in domestic and commercial refrigeration when the Commission had initially proposed a strategy based on improving the containment of f-gases;
  • Second, by re-introducing the environment provisions of the EC Treaty as sole legal base, it allows countries such as Austria and Denmark to continue applying stricter national rules.

One year ago, when EU environment ministers voted to split the bill in two, the EU carmakers' association (ACEA) said the targets were "challenging" but achievable (EURACTIV, 15 Oct. 2005).

EU environment ministers decided last year to split the draft F-gas bill into two separate legislative proposals (EURACTIV, 15 Oct. 2004):

  • directive to phase out HFC-134a from vehicle air conditioning (legal base: internal market - article 95)
  • regulation for other 'stationary' applications such as domestic and commercial fridges and air conditioners (legal base: internal market and environment - article 95 and 175)

F-gases (hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, perfluorocarbons or PFCs and sulphur hexafluoride or SF6) were introduced in the nineties to replace CFCs and HCFCs, blamed for depleting the earth's ozone layer. 

However, the Commission estimates their global warming potential to be as much as "23,900 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2)" in the case of SF6. Emissions of F-gases are expected to grow dramatically if no action is taken, "from 65.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 1995 to 98 million tonnes in 2010," according to the Commission. 

  • 26 October 2005: Parliament vote in Plenary (Strasbourg)
  • 2 December 2005: Environment Council possible political agreement
  • An economic impact assessment is currently being undertaken by the Commission as part of its 'better regulation' initiative but it will not upset the legislative process, the Commission said.

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