The F-gas negotiations will go on after the holidays. As is already known and as Parliament Rapporterur Bas Eickhout had announced on Twitter, no agreement was reached between the EU bodies on 19 July in the so-called trilogue on the regulation. And so the works to give the new F-gas regulation a final face will resume after the summer. But what exactly didn’t go as expected?
We asked one of the associations that has been at the forefront of the F-gas issue for years and whose work has helped to spread important information on the use of alternatives to HFCs as well as on the illegal trade in these molecules. In dialogue with Sophie Geoghegan, EIA International.
- What happened exactly on July 19 for the F-gas?
All participants wanted to reach an agreement in what should have been the final trilogue meeting but unfortunately after a few hours they realised that no agreement could be reached as their positions were still too far apart on a handful of issues. The negotiations will resume after the summer holiday. We hope that the urgency of the file will be respected and prioritised by the Spanish Presidency in September in order for the revised regulation to come into force at the start of 2024 as originally anticipated.
- Why no agreement was reached? Which points did not find agreement?
What we’ve been told is that there were a few outstanding issues where a compromise could not yet be reached between the Council mandate and the European Parliament – these included on heat pumps and SF6 as well as some Annex IV bans. The Council mandate would not allow for compromised positions that the Parliament could accept. The Parliament position was more ambitious than the Council position – calling for a total phase out of HFCs and extending some Annex IV bans to cover all F-gases and not just HFCs in light of the environmental harm caused by many low GWP F-gas alternatives.
On heat pumps, one argument is that propane heat pumps must be prioritised to avoid locking in harmful F-gases unnecessarily as we decarbonise heating and meet the RePowerEU targets. On the other side are some Eastern European Member States who argue that more time is needed for this transition, despite many of the new natural refrigerant heat pump facilities being built in these same Member States and the European Commission clearly showing that the F-gas phasedown is not in opposition to the goals of RePowerEU. A similar rift can be found in the industry – with the conservative lobbying group saying F-gases are needed for the swift deployment of the necessary number of heat pumps while the other industry lobby camp state it is possible already to move to propane and still meet RePowerEU – this is backed up by the huge number of new propane heat pump units we have seen enter the market in the last 18 months.
SF6 is one of the worst F-gases with a GWP over 26,000 times higher than that of CO2 and F-gas free alternatives exist in the market. However, some members of the electricity industry, where SF6 is used in switchgear, entered the lobbying fray before the final trilogue to push for the continued use of the climate destroying gas. With increased electrification, millions more switchgear will be needed in Europe, to connect wind farms to the grid etc, our planet cannot afford for these to rely on SF6, especially when F-gas free solutions exist like those marketed by Siemens Energy and Schneider Electric.
- What are now the next steps?
Member States will have to reconvene to adjust the Council mandate while Bas Eickhout will report back to the ENVI Committee at the end of August and then both will re-enter trilogues and find a decision that everyone can agree to. There will be difficult negotiations ahead as many of the issues, especially on heat pumps, have been heavily politicised. The F-gas industry has been lobbying very hard on this file and we expect that to continue. Industry will watch the progress closely, but in the meantime should continue with and accelerate their transitions away from fluorinated gases to futureproof their businesses. However, industry can move faster in this transition within a strong regulatory landscape so a swift decision is needed to unlock the necessary investment.
Agreements will have to be made on the Annex IV ban dates for various equipment using F-gases including heat pumps, air conditioners and switchgear.
- Which consequences will this delay have on the entry into force of F-gas?
We are in a climate crisis and there is no time to waste in tackling these super climate damaging fluorinated gases. The alternatives exist and are already in use in Europe and worldwide so businesses can and must transition with or without a delay to the legislation. With the extreme heatwaves we are seeing ravage parts of Europe, the urgent need for sustainable cooling has never been more evident. We cannot continue installing F-gas equipment which contributes to climate change making these extreme weather events more frequent and more deadly.
We urge the Spanish Presidency to prioritise this important climate file and push for a decision as soon as possible in September – any delay in a decision could impact the date that the revised regulation comes into force. The quota allocation is done annually and is usually decided in October so the timeline is tight even with an agreement in September – any delay could see some elements of the revised regulation coming into force later in 2024 but the first adjusted phasedown step being delayed until 2025. The Spanish Presidency has a very full agenda but given how close this file is to being completed and the urgency of the climate crisis, an agreement must be prioritised.
Meanwhile, the WMO reports that July 2023 was one of the hottest months ever recorded