EPEE urges caution on F-gas bans


02 March 2023
Members of the ENVI Committee voting. Photograph Alexis Haulot. © European Union 2023

The European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE) says the European Parliament should exercise caution before pressing ahead following a vote supporting “unrealistic and self-defeating” bans of fluorinated gases.

The ENVI committee voted to ban all F-gases in most products, which EPEE says will remain essential, along with non-fluorinated refrigerants, for the 60 million heat pumps that the EU aims to make available by 2030.

“This week our alliance of associations and global partners urged the Committee to reconsider compromise amendments 10, 11, 13, 14 and 21 to the F-Gas Regulation,” said Russell Patten, director general of EPEE. “We fully support the phase down of HFCs and the use of alternative refrigerants like propane in heat pumps where feasible. But the fact is propane heat pumps cannot be installed in every building for private and commercial use, so customers would have no other choice than to go for fossil fuel technology or direct electric heaters. This would undermine Europe’s carbon neutrality goals, slow down the process of building decarbonisation and jeopardise the goals of Repower EU and the EU Green Deal Industrial Plan.

“We also note that the amendments proposed will shorten the lifetime of currently installed equipment, limiting possibilities for maintenance and repair, while businesses and consumers are already under economic pressure.” Read more here.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, however, welcomed the vote. Climate campaign leader Clare Perry said: “Timely bans are the cornerstone of the F-Gas Regulation, allowing manufacturers certainty over product development and helping end users avoid costly investment in soon-to-be-obsolete technologies. These bans are urgently needed, given we are in the critical decade of climate action with just a few years to peak and then drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming to 1.5°C.''

The EIA statement continued: "Contrary to rhetoric from unprogressive industry alliances dominated by multinational companies seeking to profit from prolonged use of HFCs, the ENVI Committee proposes several measures to ensure compatibility with increased heat pump deployment under the bloc’s REPowerEU Plan. These include additional time for implementing bans, allowing the European Commission flexibility to respond to any unforeseen market disruptions and financial support toward deployment of heat pumps relying on natural refrigerants and training of installers.''

EIA senior lawyer & policy advisor Tim Grabiel added: “The ENVI Committee report represents the first known initiative by a major legislative committee to phase out HFCs, most of which are not only super greenhouse gases but per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), toxic substances also referred to as ‘forever chemicals’.

“The vote continues a long history of European leadership on F-gases and should be supported by the full European Parliament as a win-win for the climate and European businesses.” Read more here.

MEPs want to strengthen new requirements proposed by the Commission that prohibit the placing on the single market of products containing F-gases. The text also adds prohibitions on the use of F-gases for sectors where it is technologically and economically feasible to switch to alternatives that do not use F-gases, such as refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps.

The report introduces a steeper trajectory from 2039 onwards to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) placed on the EU market, with the goal of a zero HFC target by 2050. According to MEPs, the Commission should closely monitor market developments in key sectors such as heat pumps and semiconductors. For heat pumps, the Commission wants to ensure that the HFC phase-down would not endanger the RePowerEU heat pump deployment targets as the industry has to work towards replacing HFCs with natural alternatives.

Rapporteur Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL) said: “F-gases are not well known, but have major implications for our climate, as they are very powerful greenhouse gases. In most instances, natural alternatives are readily available. That’s why we voted for an ambitious position to fully phase out F-gases by 2050 and in most sectors already by the end of this decade. We are providing clarity to the market and a signal to invest in alternatives. Many European companies are already at the forefront of this development and will benefit from it, because of their market position and export opportunities.”

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The report is scheduled to be adopted during the 29-30 March plenary sitting and will constitute the European Parliament’s negotiating position with governments on the final shape of the legislation.

The European Heat Pump Association described the vote as a major setback. Secretary general Thomas Nowak said: “MEPs should not slam down both the accelerator and the brake pedals at once. The EU needs to decarbonise and get off fossil fuels in heating with top priority. It has recognised heat pumps as the solution – so, the road ahead needs to be cleared of obstacles, not blocked off. The industry is committed to the safe handling of refrigerants and the transition to refrigerants with a low global warming potential, with the aim of reaching zero emission through heat pump technology by 2050.” 

The statement added: "The heat pump sector has pledged to support the shift from F-gases to natural refrigerants whenever possible and has already achieved significant progress in the monobloc outdoor unit segment. The implementation of new product standards and building codes will also play a crucial role in this transition.  

"However, ENVI’s position on an accelerated phase-out fails to consider current manufacturing and installation capacity. This risks significantly limiting the number of heat pumps available in certain market segments pushing consumers back to fossil fuels, with far worse consequences for health and the planet.'' Read more here.

AREA, the European association of refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump (RACHP) contractors, said: "We are pleased to see that the proposal to extend the current F-Gas training and certification scheme to alternative refrigerants, which AREA has been advocating for, has been adopted with broad support.

"Training and certification will be required to avoid accidents, injury and fatalities involving systems with alternative greenhouse gas refrigerant systems. However, ensuring the widespread of training and certifications for those refrigerants across Europe will require time.''

It added that AREA members fully support the transition to climate-friendly alternatives to F-gases, but said the timing needs to be aligned with market and technological realities.

The statement continued: "We also regret that the importance of extending periodical inspections and leak checks to prevent safety risks on technicians, personnel and end-users has not been recognised. Since they were introduced in the 2006 F-Gas Regulation, leak check requirements have proven to be effective and efficient, bringing lower leakage rates with positive climate and energy consumption impacts.

"With the increased use of alternative refrigerants, all of which present safety issues and many of which are flammable, regular leak checks are necessary to ensure safe and energy-efficient system operation. Progress should not compromise safety. Read more here.