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New rules proposed on fluorinated greenhouse gases and ozone depleting substances

05 April 2022
by eub2 -- last modified 05 April 2022

The European Commission proposed on 5 April two new Regulations to more tightly control fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) and ozone depleting substances (ODS).


1. Why is the Commission proposing new rules on fluorinated greenhouse gases and ozone depleting substances?

Fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) and most ozone depleting substances (ODS) have a global warming potential many times greater than carbon dioxide, so reducing their emissions is necessary to fight climate change and protect the health and well-being of EU citizens. ODS also affect the ozone layer, increasing our exposure to harmful radiation from the sun.

The primary objective of the proposals on F-gases and ODS is to further cut emissions of these potent greenhouse gases. The F-gases proposal will help the EU reach its emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. Both proposals would also ensure that the EU complies with the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer and the Kigali amendment under this Protocol to phase down hydrofluorocarbons. They would improve implementation, enforcement and monitoring of the current rules and achieve more consistency and clarity in how the rules are applied.

2. What are F-gases and ODS used for?

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) represent around 90% of F-gas emissions. Their main use is as refrigerants in refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners and heat pumps; as propellants in asthma sprays and technical aerosol spray cans; in fire extinguishers; and as blowing agents for foams.

Emissions of other F-gases such as perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), are also significant. These substances are commonly used in industrial manufacturing processes. SF6 is also used for insulation in electrical transmission (power lines).

The few ODS that are still allowed are used in the production of other chemicals, as fire protection agents in special applications such as on board airplanes, and in laboratories for analysis. However, the now obsolete use of ODS as blowing agents in insulation foams is still relevant today as many of these foams are still in place in buildings. As they reach the end of their lifespan over the coming decades, they will be removed which could lead to emissions.

3. How serious are these greenhouse gas emissions?

F-gas emissions currently account for 2.5% of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions, and 5% of the emissions covered by national emission targets set out in the EU Effort Sharing Regulation. Unlike other greenhouse gases, F-gas emissions doubled between 1990 and 2014. Emissions started to fall after 2014 when the current EU F-gas regulation started to take effect, resulting in a 6% reduction by 2019. The Regulation was also successful in terms of facilitating the global agreement in 2016 to phase down hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal Protocol ("Kigali Amendment"). It has been estimated that the Kigali Amendment alone will prevent up to 0.4 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.

While the EU is cutting F-gas emissions, globally the picture is still different. F-gases are among the fastest growing greenhouse gases, largely as a result of increasing demand for refrigeration and air-conditioning especially in developing economies.

As for ODS, while EU-wide legislation has prevented significant amounts of ODS emissions, and only very few ODS uses are still allowed in the EU, the exempted uses must be controlled tightly to avoid illegal use and backsliding. The focus of the new legislation has therefore shifted from phasing out production and consumption of ODS to maintaining tight control of the few exempted uses, as well as preventing emissions from old products and equipment that still contain ODS.

4. How does the Commission want to further reduce F-gas and ODS emissions and what are the climate benefits?

Emissions of F-gases and ODS can be prevented by using alternatives where possible, and otherwise by putting measures in place to reduce their leakage and emission during production or use.

In the F-gases proposal, an HFC quota system would severely restrict the future supply of HFCs to the EU market, reaching 2.4% of 2015 levels in 2050 when measured in terms of their potential climate impact. The system would give all relevant sectors a strong economic incentive to use climate-friendly alternatives. In addition, in some sectors F-gases would be completely eliminated. The proposal also updates a number of obligations for companies, such as implementing best practices, checking for leaks, keeping records, training service personnel and proper waste treatment. The proposal reinforces the licensing system and labelling obligations to improve the enforcement of trade restrictions. Moreover, the new Regulation would bolster the existing monitoring and verification systems to ensure compliance with the Montreal Protocol and set standards for Member States' penalties to deter the illegal trade of F-gases.

For ODS, most production, use and trade is already prohibited. The main purpose of the new proposal is therefore to prevent ODS emissions from formerly legal applications in products and equipment. For instance, it would be mandatory to recover or destroy ODS from some insulation foams during the renovation and demolition of buildings.

The additional emissions saved from the review of the F-gas Regulation are 310 million tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) from now until 2050. This corresponds to the total annual greenhouse gas emissions of Spain in 2019. In addition, the ODS Regulation would contribute another 180 million tCO2e of savings from now until by 2050 based on the new foam recovery and destruction obligation. This corresponds to the total annual greenhouse gas emissions of the Netherlands in 2019. These savings are coming on top of significant emission reductions resulting from the existing rules.

Both actions will contribute to achieving the goal of the Paris Agreement of keeping temperatures from rising more than 2°C by 2100, and ideally keeping them to 1.5°C. The reduction in F-gas emissions will help Member States meet their national emissions targets under the EU Effort Sharing Regulation and therefore contribute to reaching the -55% net emission reduction target by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050.

5. How much will this action cost us?

Action to reduce F-gases under the existing Regulation has been very cost-efficient, averaging at just over 6€/tCO2e across all sectors. The Commission has carefully chosen additional measures that will not result in very high costs for any economic sub-sectors. It is therefore ensured that the new measures are affordable and proportionate. The new measures will create upfront costs for end-users, but will also reduce their operational costs in the medium-term due to energy savings.

The cost of reducing F-gas and ODS emissions will actually be negative for all sectors combined by 2030, which means end users will generally save money. There are also positive effects expected in terms of innovation, investment and employment in the relevant sectors, especially in the equipment manufacturing sector and its supply industry.

The review of the ODS Regulation improves its efficiency, reducing costs for industry and authorities by ending some measures that are no longer needed and by using the potential of digitized custom controls to improve the control of trade requirements. The new obligations on how to treat foam at the end of a product's useful lifecycle will have a relatively low cost.

6. How will the proposals ensure the EU complies with the Montreal Protocol?

The Montreal Protocol has phased out the use of ODS and has set a phase-down schedule for the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). It was necessary to adjust the EU's own HFC phase-down and reporting obligations in the F-gas Regulation. Specifically, it abolishes certain exemptions and thresholds that do not exist under the Montreal Protocol, includes phase-down steps beyond 2030, and introduces a specific phase-down schedule for production.

The EU rules on ODS have always been more ambitious than the Montreal Protocol and the phase-out of ODS in the EU is nearly complete.

7. How will the proposals improve enforcement?

Both proposals include clearer requirements on what customs authorities need to do when F-gases, ODS and related products and equipment containing them are imported and exported. The new rules also require importers to provide additional information to make automatic customs checks possible. The proposals also include rules on inspections and the seizure of goods. Finally, penalties for infringing the rules will become more standardized across EU Member States, and more dissuasive.

Source: European Commission