EIA-F-gas: Déjà vu as proposal to tackle climate-harming hydrofluorocarbons falls short in critical sectors

The Commission’s long-awaited proposal to revise the EU F-gas Regulation was originally expected in 2021 and seeks to avoid additional greenhouse gas emissions as part of the European Union’s ‘Fit for 55’ package – a commitment to cut emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030 – while also ensuring compliance with international obligations under the Montreal Protocol which was amended in 2016 via the Kigali Amendment to include an HFC phase-down.

The flagship measure in the new proposals is an acceleration of the HFC phase-down from 2024 onward, which would reduce HFC use to 2.4 per cent of 2015 levels by 2048.

But conspicuously absent are vital bans on new HFC-based refrigeration, heat pump and air-conditioning equipment; according to Commission analysis undertaken more than a decade ago, these sectors should have already transitioned to climate-friendly alternatives.

Clare Perry, EIA Climate Campaigns Leader, said: “It’s been more than 10 years since the last review and the wealth of missed opportunities here inspires a sinking feeling of déjà vu.

“This proposal doesn’t go far enough to eliminate the use of HFCs and unless it’s significantly amended, it will result in yet another lost decade of climate change action at a time when the world can least afford it.”

F-gases are the fastest growing greenhouse gases, representing 2.3 per cent of global emissions. Given their short lifespan in the atmosphere, getting rid of them is considered a critical move to limit warming to 1.5°C and avoid dangerous climate tipping points.

The EU has traditionally been a global leader on F-gases, phasing out ozone-depleting substances 10 years ahead of international obligations and adopting its own HFC phase-down in 2014, two years before the Kigali Amendment. But recent efforts have been plagued by significant illegal HFC trade and the continued use of new HFC-based equipment.

Perry warned: “In this critical decade of ever-increasing climate ambition to avoid passing 1.5°C, the Commission’s plan lacks conviction. This proposal, along with the recent plan to restrict methane emissions, begs the question as to how effective its leadership really is.”

In December 2021, the Commission published a proposal for an EU Methane Regulation. Currently under consideration by the European Parliament and the Council, it failed to include any meaningful measures on imports — despite broad support by civil society and industry — due to unsubstantiated concerns that it might restrict Russian gas.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, the Commission’s REPowerEU plan now targets the installation of 30 million new heat pumps by 2030 to reduce reliance on Russian gas.

Perry added: “Given this much-needed and overdue roll-out of heat pumps, it is critical that the revised F-Gas Regulation includes robust measures to ensure these heat pumps do not lock in the use of HFC refrigerants, effectively pitting one piece of climate legislation against another.

Climate-friendly natural refrigerants can cover a significant proportion of the heat pump market, so a double climate win is possible – if the Parliament and Council have the vision to make it happen. Waiting until 2027 for bans to take effect is not an option.

The latest IPCC report was released this week and made clear that it’s now or never if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Given that every fraction of a degree of warming could have devastating and irreversible effects, it is disappointing that this landmark European climate legislation once again fails to seize the full climate mitigation opportunities available.

The new proposal does contain some welcome revisions to accelerate the HFC phase-down and address illegal HFC trade, although questions remain about the efficacy of the F-Gas Regulation to close transit loopholes currently being exploited by black market smugglers.