EU to phase out ‘super greenhouse gases’

The European Parliament has voted in favour of a rapid phase-out of dangerous hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) ‘super greenhouse gases’, in a bid to help tackle climate change.
 
In the late 1980s, the Montreal Protocol introduced a gradual phase-out and ultimately an international ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), to slow down the depletion of the Earth’s protective ozone layer.
 
However, a range of other so-called ‘F-gases’ – including HFCs - are still widely used in air conditioning units and refrigerators. They are also used in fire protection equipment, aerosols and foams.
 
They do not deplete the ozone layer like CFCs but some of them have a greenhouse warming effect that is up to 23,000 times greater than equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).
 
Unlike other greenhouse gases, emissions of HFCs have actually risen by about 60 per cent in the EU since 1990.
 
‘Yes’ vote
 
The proposals for a phase-out were approved by MEPs last week, with 644 in favour, 19 opposed and 16 abstentions. 
 
Final approval by the European Council is scheduled for Monday 14 April but the rules have already been informally agreed with ministers, so they are likely to pass into law. 
 
The legislation could reduce the use of HFCs in the EU by 79 per cent, by 2030, and their use in commercial refrigeration could be banned by 2022.
 
‘Urgently necessary’
 
MEP Bas Eickhout said: "This EU breakthrough sets the pace for a global phase-out of these ‘super greenhouse’ gases, which would otherwise account for 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 
 
"F-gas emissions have risen by 60 per cent since 1990 in the EU. Banning their use in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment is therefore urgently necessary to reverse this trend.”
 
He added: "Banning F-gases in new commercial refrigeration equipment from 2022 will spur innovation, to the immediate benefit of many innovative European firms, by stimulating demand for natural refrigerants.”
 
International action
 
Four years ago, the issue of HFCs and their global warming potential was raised at a global level. There have been strong calls to bring them under the banner of the Montreal Protocol or to clarify how the problem should be addressed.
 
Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said that the European vote would lend “tremendous momentum” to the cause.
 
He said: “The Montreal Protocol HFC phase-down will be the biggest, fastest climate mitigation available to the world in the near term, avoiding the equivalent of 100 billion tons of CO2 by 2050 and up to a 0.5°C of warming by the end of the century.” 
 
New F-gases
 
In related news, meanwhile, scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have announced that they have found four new manmade gases in the atmosphere, all of which are contributing to further destruction of the ozone layer. Their findings were published last week, in the academic journal, Nature Geoscience.
 
The mystery gases include three new CFCs and one new hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC). All four have been released into the atmosphere in large quantities, recently, and two have been accumulating significantly.
 
Dr Johannes Laube, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, led the research team. He said: “Our research has shown four gases that were not around in the atmosphere at all until the 1960s which suggests they are manmade.”
 
He went on to say that the Montreal Protocol had “resulted in successfully reducing the production” of F-gases on a global scale, but that “legislation loopholes still allow some usage for exempted purposes”.
 
Work is now underway to find the source of the new emissions, with feedstock chemicals for insecticide production and solvents for cleaning electronic components coming under particular scrutiny.
 

Posted under Environmental Regulations and Legislation on 18 March 2014