Cylinders (sourced from Tony Spencer)

In 1989, the Montreal Protocol laid out an extensive set of environmental rules that regulate and phase-out gases which contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer: including hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons.

Coming only 10 years later, the United Nations’ were able to build on that success when the Kyoto Protocol (KP) provided a legal basis on which developed countries could actively pursue reductions in greenhouse gases (GHGs) economically and sustainably. One such GHG was a group called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): a set of gases that have global warming potentials many thousand times the potency of carbon dioxide and were excluded from the MP (HFCs can be direct bi-products from HCFC productions).

This time however, Parties under the KP were able to take advantage of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to receive many millions of Euros in exchange for destroying HFCs. As a result, projects that generate offsets from destroying HFC (specifically HFC-23 from HCFC-22 productions) have sat uneasily in the CDM.

A Fluorinated EU?

The HFC sector in the CDM has been the target of much criticism (see previous Climatico blog) that questions the underlying environmental credibility of HFC Certified Emission Reductions (CERs – the currency of the CDM).

Since each avoided ton of HFC-23 generates 14,800 CERs (worth €170,000 at current prices), the recent announcement that the EU Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) will no longer accept HFC CERs for compliance from May 2013 to some extent highlights the EU’s position on discouraging HFC tolerance despite its worth.

In an effort to curb HFC use further, several countries (US, Canada, Mexico and Micronesia) proposed extending the MP to also cover HFCs, paving the way for rapid de-fluorinisation.

Replacements

Some environmental groups including CDM-Watch and Greenpeace, however, feel that the political inertia could place the wider realm of fluorinated gases (a set of potent GHGs that include HFCs, perfluorocarbons – PFCs, and sulphur hexafluoride – SF6) under heavier regulation.

After the success of the Montreal Protocol to ban HCFCs and CFCs, the so-called F-gases were widely applied to fill the void of various industrial uses such as refrigeration, air conditioning and electrical transmission.

Despite their low toxicity, low flammability and non-ozone depleting properties, F-gases have global warming potentials many times that of carbon dioxide meaning they contribute to anthropogenic climate change. Moreover, the climate effect of these gases is relatively short-lived compared to carbon dioxide; meaning that action can return prompt benefits, helping to reduce atmospheric temperature increases.

A Low-Carbon Future

Since 2006, EU legislators have implemented a set of regulations and one directive to ensure the so-called F-gases remain subject to strict controls. These regulations only resulted from a conciliation procedure since the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers were unable to reach an agreement on two separate occasions.

Only last week did the European Commission publish a proposal to take the EU on a track to reduce emissions 80-95% by 2050 from 1990 levels (Roadmap 2050). To reach the target, the report recommends that comprehensive economy-wide policy changes should be required.

For instance, emissions in the industrial sector will need to be reduced by some 40% by 2030 and then 80% by 2050. The power sector will need to undertake a major and rapid change: at least 60% reduction in sector emissions by 2030 with almost full decarbonisation by 2050.

The Council is expected to debate the Roadmap today (March 14). While the scope of the proposal and effort required to implement the recommendations is colossal, some groups believe that addressing the EU’s use of F-gases cannot be underestimated and should not be overlooked as the EU lawmakers discuss potentially momentous proposals.

While F-gases account for approximately 4% of EU annual carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, their potential climate change toxicity means that their future regulation in the EU, or under a suitable international treaty, remains an important part of the solution in a move to a low-carbon and sustainable economy.

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