Questions and Answers on the Commission proposal to reduce emissions of climate-warming fluorinated gases
1. What is the European Commission proposing?
The Commission has put forward a proposal to replace the existing Regulation 1 on fluorinated greenhouse gases with the aim of significantly reducing emissions of the gases in the European Union. By setting the right legal framework, the EU hopes to spur the development of more climate-friendly alternatives and to stimulate new global action to reduce F-gas emissions.
2. What are fluorinated gases?
Fluorinated gases (F-gases) are a family of powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. They are used in several types of products and appliances, mainly as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons which are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.
The three major groups are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). While F-gases do not deplete the ozone layer, their warming effect on the atmosphere is up to 23,000 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2). F-gases, which can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years, account for 2% of the EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.
3. Why do we need legislation?
F-gases are increasingly used in the EU and world-wide in equipment for refrigeration and air conditioning, insulation foams, electrical equipment, aerosol sprays and fire extinguishers. F-gas emissions in the EU have risen by 60% since 1990 (see graph below) while all other greenhouse gases (GHGs) have been reduced. The gases leak into the atmosphere from production plants and during the operation and disposal of products and equipment containing them. As F-gas appliances have long lifetimes of up to 50 years, legislation is needed to prevent emissions increasing for several decades to come.
Emissions of F-gases in the EU27 (1990-2010) in million tonnes (CO2) equivalent (Source: EEA)
4. What does the existing legislation already do?
The existing Regulation1 on fluorinated greenhouse gases requires companies to take a range of measures to reduce leaks from equipment containing F-gases and to recover the gases at the end of the equipment’s lifetime. The current Regulation also includes requirements regarding the training and certification of personnel that service equipment, labelling of F-gas equipment, reporting on production, imports and exports of F-gases as well as a ban on the use of F-gases in a few specific areas (for example as an insulating gas in windows). The existing legislation has already achieved a verifiable reduction of emissions of F-gases and, if fully applied, would make it possible to avoid almost half of projected emissions by 2050, stabilising EU-27 emissions from that sector at today’s levels2.
5. Why is this new proposal necessary?
Existing legislation will help prevent further growth of F-gas emissions. However, to avoid dangerous effects of climate change such as the increase in extreme weather events, the EU must cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% of 1990 levels by 2050. The European Commission’s low carbon roadmap sets out a cost-efficient way to achieve this through contributions from all sectors and greenhouse gases. A fair and cost-efficient contribution by the F-gas sector to this objective would require reducing F-gas emissions in the EU by two-thirds of today’s levels by 2030.
6. What exactly is being proposed?
The main new element is a phase-down measure that from 2015 limits the total amount of the most significant group of F-gases – Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – that can be sold in the EU. This will be reduced to one fifth of today’s sales by 2030. Producers and importers will initially be allocated rights to place HFCs on the market according to their existing market shares, with reserve allocations for new companies entering the market. These market rights will then decrease in 3-year steps until 2030.
The measure will build on the successful phasing out of ozone-depleting substances which was achieved in the EU 10 years ahead of the schedule agreed internationally. In addition, F-gases will be banned in some equipment, such as household fridges, for which less harmful alternatives are widely available on the market today. Existing legal requirements, such as the control of leaks, proper servicing of equipment and recovery of the gases at the end of the equipment’s life are maintained and strengthened in the new proposal.
7. What will the main benefits of the proposal be?
F-gas emissions will be significantly reduced as a result of new legislation. Society as a whole will benefit from efforts to prevent climate change from reaching dangerous proportions. The proposal would also stimulate innovation, green jobs and growth by encouraging the use of green technologies based on less climate-harmful refrigerants. With the right legal framework in place, EU consumers and commercial users of equipment can drive the change and spur technological development in all sectors that use F-gases. Member States have shown that pioneering legislation in this field not only benefits the climate but also companies that seize the opportunity to develop climate-friendly products and equipment.
8. Why is it so important to act now?
The more we reduce emissions today, the less our society will have to spend on adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change in the future. F-gas appliances have long lifetimes of up to 50 years, so avoiding their use now can prevent emissions increasing for several decades to come.
Recent studies show that a number of alternatives to powerful climate warming F-gases exist that are technically sound, safe to use, cost-efficient and can lead to energy savings. Without action on F-gases, other economic sectors would have to pick up the bill for reducing emissions, at potentially higher cost.
As well as action at EU level, it is crucial to reach agreement at international level to reduce F-gas use and emissions globally. By demonstrating that more climate-friendly products are technically feasible and represent a great business opportunity, the EU hopes to stimulate new global action on F-gas emissions.
9. Why do we need action at EU level?
Action at EU level will almost certainly be more effective than a collection of national measures. It is also much easier for businesses if they face the same rules everywhere in the EU instead of different rules in 27 countries. Common action strengthens the position of the EU – the world’s largest economy – in pushing for global action to phase down F-gases.
10. What is the EU doing at international level?
The growing problem of F-gas emissions is also receiving attention internationally. In recent years, several parties to the Montreal Protocol have submitted proposals to phase down the consumption and production of HFCs worldwide. The EU has supported these proposals as a complement to action to mitigate climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the context of this convention, the EU will call at the Doha climate change conference for urgent action on HFCs by all parties as a contribution to closing the gap between the necessary emission reductions by 2020 and currently envisaged mitigation actions.
In June, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) expressed support for a gradual phase-down globally of the consumption and production of HFCs. In addition, tackling emissions from HFCs is a priority area for action under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, established in 2012. Members of CCAC include the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the World Bank and the European Commission, and at the May 2012 Camp David Summit the G8 countries endorsed CCAC and agreed to join its efforts.
See also IP/12/1180
1. Regulation (EC) No 842/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 May 2006
2. COM(2011) 581 final. http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/f-gas/docs/report_en.pdf