EIA criticises inaction on illegal HFC trade


22 September 2021

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency says Romanian authorities have shown "alarming complacency" following its report into the illegal trade in illegal HFC refrigerant gases.

In July, Europe’s Most Chilling Crime highlighted Romania as a major illegal entry point to the EU for Chinese-made, HFC refrigerants – but more than two months later, the EIA says zero enforcement action has been taken.

Although the precise scale of the illegal HFC trade cannot be accurately estimated, the EIA believes it is significant, likely between 20-30 per cent of the legal trade.

With an allowable annual EU quota of 100.3 million tonnes CO2-equivalent (CO2e), this would indicate the volume of illegal HFCs entering the EU was potentially as much as 30 million tonnes of CO2e in 2019.

Prior to releasing the report, EIA notified all relevant customs authorities about its findings, including naming the companies involved and the smugglers caught on camera discussing their crimes, the routes commonly used and the methods employed to transport these hazardous gases around Europe, sometimes stowed below unwitting passengers and drivers in the luggage compartments of transcontinental coaches.

Despite this, authorities in Romania have given no indication that action is being taken, even though the report was covered in the country’s media.

Fionnuala Walravens, EIA senior climate campaigner, said: “In the midst of a global climate crisis and with the potential climate impact of this illegal trade amounting to the greenhouse gas emissions of more than 6.5 million cars being driven for a year, the lack of response from enforcement authorities in the EU and, especially, Romania smacks of alarming complacency.

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“Following in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest warning in August and a summer of terrifying climate change-induced weather incidents around the world, there is no excuse for inaction. 

“We have the tools needed to tackle this crime – namely, coordinated intelligence-led enforcement, higher penalties and better monitoring of HFCs entering and transiting through Europe – but they need to be taken out of the box to be at all effective.”

The EU revised its F-Gas Regulation in 2014 to phase down HFCs, a family of synthetic greenhouse gases hundreds to thousands of times more potent than CO2 and commonly used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, fire protection, aerosols and foams.

But as supplies shrink and prices rise under the EU’s HFC quotas, criminal trade has proliferated to meet demand.

Launched in English, Europe’s Most Chilling Crime has now been translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish and Turkish and will be sent to relevant contacts in those countries, including enforcement agencies.