EU Parliament approves new restrictions for fluorinated gases
Europe is one step closer to enacting stricter controls on fluorinated gases (F-gases) after new rules on the phase-out of F-gases were approved by the European Parliament on January 16, 2024. The regulations, passed during the first reading, now await endorsement by the European Council, which is expected to be a mere formality. Sign-off by the Council is anticipated in the coming weeks, with the new regulations entering into effect 20 days after publication in the European Union (EU) Official Journal.
F-gases are a group of synthetic gases, including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride and nitrogen trifluoride. They are employed extensively in industrial applications such as refrigeration, air conditioning systems, heat pumps and in foams, fire extinguishers and aerosol propellants.
Developed in the 1990s as an alternative to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), F-gases contribute significantly to global warming due to their high Global Warming Potential (GWP). Notably, HFCs are more harmful than carbon dioxide and have become a major concern for climate change. F-gases are said to contribute 2.5% of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the EU.
Europe is already a frontrunner in F-gas legislation. Completion of the legislative process will further strengthen this position by implementing ambitious plans to phase out F-gases by 2050. In a statement, Bas Eickhout, the lead negotiator on the F-gas regulation and a member of the European Parliament, lauded the regulation as a “huge victory for the climate for the EU.” The deal will “send a clear message to the market that it’s time to switch to greener alternatives,” he says.
The new rules were overwhelmingly approved by Parliament, with 457 votes in favour, 92 against and 32 abstentions, effectively concluding a three-year process that began with open public consultation in 2020. The European Commission’s proposal to repeal the existing regulation was published on April 5, 2022, with Parliament adopting its position on March 30, 2023. Provisional agreement by the co-legislators was achieved on October 5, 2023, before January’s affirmative Parliamentary vote.
Bans on the use of F-gases have the potential to dramatically cut emissions. The commission anticipates the new regulation will prevent the release of 40 MtCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2030 and 310 MtCO2e by 2050—in addition to savings from existing directives. Tighter quotas and new restrictions on F-gases in equipment will deliver a 98% reduction in HFCs by 2048, compared to 2015 levels. The regulation outlines phase-out dates between 2024 and 2049 for specific sectors where climate-friendly alternatives are available, such as heat pumps and air conditioning.
Parliament’s decision also ends exemptions that currently fall outside the remit of the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol is a landmark international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of certain substances known to cause ozone depletion.
The regulation will quickly phase down F-gases in Europe and, in addition, align efforts with the climate goals outlined in the European Green Deal and Fit for 55 Package—which mandate a 55% reduction in European Union (EU) emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) and climate neutrality by mid-century. Once it enters law, the legislation provides additional powers to customs and surveillance authorities to control imports and exports, including comprehensive monitoring. A quota price will be introduced, and harsher penalties will be more consistent across the European bloc. The regulation directs the establishment of a Consultation Forum to provide expertise on the availability of alternatives to F-gases.
Residential heat pumps are expected to play a pivotal role in the energy transition as they replace oil and gas heating systems. However, F-gases are still widely used in heat pumps. Eickhout stressed the importance of guaranteeing heat pumps are a truly green alternative to fossil fuels. He also noted the new rules provide clarity around future investment. “European companies are already at the forefront of developing clean alternatives to F-gases, so this law will be good for the climate and the European economy,” he says.
Some industry stakeholders don’t see it the same way. Following the provisional agreement in October 2023, the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) labelled the revision deal a “significant burden” in the short term. The association lamented the requirement to modify production lines while already in the process of ramping up production to achieve the EU goals. In a statement, the EHPA noted that the change could even slow the transition away from fossil fuels in heating and cooling by making it more difficult to roll out heat pumps for various applications.
The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) represents the European refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump industry. While the organisation backs the move towards low GWP refrigerants in cooling, it slammed “ill-considered bans” on all F-gases it says will prolong the reliance on fossil fuels. Elements of the regulation work against the wider contributions F-gases make to decarbonisation, they said.
During the January 2024 plenary session, Parliament also agreed to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) that can destroy the protective ozone layer if emitted into the upper atmosphere. Constituents voted in favour of a legislative proposal to replace Regulation (EC) 1005/2009 with 538 votes in favour, eight against and 13 abstentions. The current legislation will be replaced with an amended structure—to ensure legal clarity. Existing control systems and reporting will be maintained. Regulation (EC) 1005/2009 has been in force since January 2010 and is still considered fit for purpose. According to the European Environment Agency, the EU has already exceeded its phase-out obligations from the 1987 Montreal Protocol.
A proposal to replace Regulation (EC) No 1005/2009 was issued by the European Commission on April 5, 2022, as Europe seeks a higher ambition on ODS to further cut emissions and comply with the requirements of the European Green Deal. The simplified regulation will tighten controls on exempted uses for ODS, simplify the monitoring and align it with other EU legislation.
Updated regulation marks a shift from the phase-out of consumption of ODS to tighter controls over exempted uses. One of the main sources of remaining ODS emissions in the EU is in building materials during renovations, such as insulation foams. New requirements to recover and recycle such substances and strict exemptions on their use as feedstock have been introduced. A saving of 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is anticipated by 2050.