Brussels weighs up F-gas ban

Brussels, Belgium: Planet-warming gases used to power refrigerators in Europe should be banned or face a weighting system based on their global warming potential, according to a consultants’ report to the EU.

The contribution of F-gases to global warming is contested, but tangible. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that the built-up presence of F-gases in the atmosphere accounted for 17% of the total human contribution to climate change in 2005.

F-gases are covered by the Kyoto Protocol, which commits the EU to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 8% between 2008 and 2012.

In 2006, an EU regulation on air conditioning systems and ‘stationary’ industrial applications tried to improve the containment of leaks, recovery of used equipment, labelling of products, reporting of emissions data to the EU and phasing out of some F-gases, such as SF6 (magnesium dye-casting). But its implementation was patchy.

A separate ‘Mac Directive’ in 2006 phased out F-gases with a global warming potential (gwp) of more than 150 for used in ‘mobile’ car air conditioning systems from 2017.

The gwp scale measures greenhouse gas trapped in the atmosphere relative to a unit of carbon dioxide (standardised to 1). The directive also banned HFC-134a, which had a gwp of 1430 and led to an industry-wide shift to a less damaging HFC called 1234yf, with a gwp of 4.

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme described HFCs as the “low-hanging fruit in the climate change challenge”. He said: “by some estimates, action to freeze and then reduce this group of gases could buy the world the equivalent of a decade’s worth of CO2 emissions”.

Fluorinated gases (also known as HFCs or F-gases) contribute around 2% of greenhouse gases today but if business continues as usual, that figure could rise to between 9% and 19% by 2050.

An interim review of a 2006 EU law to restrict the use of F-gases in Europe, seen by EurActiv, is recommending new policies to promote “further reductions of F-gas emissions” for mobile air conditioning systems in cars, ships, trains and refrigerated transport systems.

“Bans have been the most effective type of measure so far and resulted in significant and measurable reductions of F-gas consumption and hence emissions,” says the report by German research firm Öko-Recherche.