European policy-makers agreed a revised European Union (EU) F-gas Regulation supporting decarbonisation goals and driving innovation and green investment across a wide range of sectors, including heat pumps, the cold chain, healthcare and more.

The use of climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and other fluorinated gases (F-gases) in the EU is coming to an end, with the world’s first total HFC phase-out scheduled for 2050.

Mapping out a pathway to support the longer-term vision, many sectors are selected for early climate wins. Rapid growth and innovation in F-gas-free natural refrigerant technologies has opened the door for new bans on domestic heat pumps and some air-conditioners using HFCs with global warming potentials (GWP) of 150 or more from 2027 and 2029.

Furthermore, all F-gases will be banned in these subsectors from 2032 and 2035, heralding an end to the use of hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) in these sectors; HFOs are low-GWP HFC alternatives increasingly associated with adverse environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions via industrial production processes and per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) emissions.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA UK) has campaigned for more than two decades to reduce emissions of HFCs and their ozone-destroying precursors, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and was closely involved in negotiations leading up to the 2014 EU F-gas Regulation.

Welcoming today’s vote, EIA UK Senior Climate Campaigner Fionnuala Walravens said: “The bans enable Europe to meet renewable heating targets without undue uptake of climate-wrecking refrigerants.

“For the first time, Europe has taken account of the environmental impacts of HFCs and HFOs. The staggered bans provide much-needed certainty for equipment manufacturers and avoid the build-up of persistent PFAS in our environment.”

To overcome one of the core barriers to the uptake of HFC alternatives, and in recognition of the need to support the roll-out of heat pumps under RePowerEU, the revision introduces certification schemes covering the safe handling of natural refrigerants.

However, the revision failed to table ambitious limits for sales of new stationary refrigeration equipment containing HFCs, despite widespread availability of cost-effective natural refrigerant-based alternatives already being manufactured in the EU.

Other key aspects of the revised Regulation include:

  • facilitating the growth of more sustainable electrical grids by limiting the use of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), the world’s most potent greenhouse gas, in electrical switchgear
  • reducing emissions from healthcare by banning the use of potent greenhouse gas desflurane in anaesthesia and removing HFC quota exemptions for metered dose inhalers
  • tackling illegal trade through increased transparency, introducing real-time quota-tracking and minimum penalties for offenders.

EIA UK Climate Team Lead Clare Perry said: “Despite the efforts of a well-funded F-gas industry lobby seeking to prolong unnecessary use of climate-harming HFCs, regulators have made the sensible choice, one which will allow European manufacturing to flourish.”

Importantly, the Regulation now opens up the opportunity for further measures to reduce HFC use at a global level.

Perry added:: “While the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment was historic in agreeing a global HFC phase-down in 2016, it will need to be accelerated to align with a 1.5°C-compatible pathway. This revised EU F-gas Regulation clearly shows that a swift transition away from HFCs is achievable and cost-effective.

The revision comes as the UK is beginning its own F-gas Regulation review. Walravens added: “The signs are that much of the UK industry is promoting the status quo on HFCs, seemingly hell bent on driving itself into redundancy by refusing to see the direction of travel.

The UK Government has already promised to match the ambition of the EU F-gas Regulation revision – for the sake of tackling the climate emergency and to promote green innovation and UK manufacturing, it’s time now for it to deliver.