In 2013, Green Member of the European Parliament Bas Eickhout co-authored European legislation to reduce the use of F-gases, extremely powerful greenhouse gases. His legislation is probably the most ambitious climate legislation the EU has adopted in recent years. Recent research shows that the legislation has had a positive effect on the green economy in Europe, in contradiction to warnings by lobbyists, and now the legislation is copied across the world.
An enormous counter lobby was set up by conservative F-gas industries during the drafting of the legislation. Strict legislation, they argued, would harm the European industry. Alternatives for the dangerous F-gases were too expensive and not suitable for warmer countries. And, as always, there were concerns for the international competitive position.
Thanks to the work of Eickhout and others, the ambitious F-gas regulation made it to the finish line. This offered a unique possibility for the Greens in the European Parliament to commission research on the effect of ambitious climate policy on involved sectors of the industry. Its findings are remarkable positive.
What are F-gases?
F-gases (hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs) are used in refrigerators and air conditioning systems, among other uses. HFCs replaced ozone depleting substances as CFCs in the nineties, but turned out to be extremely powerful greenhouses gases. One F-gas particle has on average the same 'global warming potential' (GWP) as two thousand carbon particles. If we don't reduce the global emission of F-gases, it will lead to a global temperature rise of 0.5 degrees before the end of the century.
How does the F-gas regulation work?
The European regulation of F-gases consists of multiple parts as the figure below shows. The phasing down works in steps, with lowering quota, and sector specific bans kicking in later. Producers and users of F-gases need to anticipate the coming scarcity, so effects of the legislation are already starting to show.
Image: Key elements of the F-gas Regulation (p. 18)
1. The regulation gives EU companies a competitive advantage
The opposite of the warnings by lobbyists is true: The rest of the world is following our European legislation. California literally copied the European regulation and even tightened it. Japan introduced a system quite similar to European legislation and Australia is working on legislation. Now, even with a global agreement on the table, European companies have a major advantage on the rest of the world. They can put the technology they developed to practise on a global scale.
Image: CO2 stores global (p. 35)
2. New technologies will decrease in price
Costs for new technologies (without F-gases) are decreasing rapidly. Research shows that costs of technology without F-gases are now at the same level as technologies with F-gases. This means that for supermarkets (although they only face a complete ban in 2020) it is already commercial viable to switch to an F-gas free system. Since the start of European legislation this number has tripled.
Image: Stores using cutting-edge HFC-free technology in Europe (p.34)
What are the alternatives to F-gases?
The research shows that there are natural alternatives (for instance carbon dioxide or ammonia) for chemical F-gasses that have a minimal or no influence on climate. Thanks to the European regulation, alternatives are being used more and are increasingly cheaper to use. The downside of some alternatives however is that they are highly flammable.
Image: GWP of natural refrigerants (p. 21)
3. New technologies do work in warmer countries
Lobbyists also stated that refrigeration and air conditioning systems without F-gases would not work above a temperature of forty degrees. This would cause problems in Southern Europe. Practice now shows that those concerns were unfounded: European regulation stimulated innovation. Alternatives now also operate at temperatures of forty-four degrees, without any decrease in efficiency. This technology is now wildly used in countries as Spain, Italy and France.
Image: European natural refrigerant supplier map (p. 27)
4. The Green economy gets a boost
The three years of negotiation and application of the regulation have shown a growth of nearly sixty per cent in the number of companies operating in the supply chain. Even Greece, a country struck by an economic crisis, has shown a doubling of their numbers.
Research also shows a significant growth in investments in research into alternatives for F-gases. Further, companies in the sector expect to train more employees to work with alternative cooling systems.
Image: Significant increase in R&D investments in natural refrigerants in the last 5 years (p. 36)
5. European regulation leads to global action
Countries will be negotiating in Kigali, Rwanda up until 14 October to amend the Montreal Protocol so that it includes the phasing down of F gases. The Montreal Protocol is – according to many – the most successful international treaty: it tackled the use of CFCs and made sure that we do not have a hole in our ozone layer.
If the negotiations in Kigali are successful (and it looks like they will be), the use of F-gases will be globally phased down. After the European Union introduced it ambitious regulation it became a strong proponent of including F-gases in the Montreal Protocol. The EU also shows that, thanks to its regulation, alternatives are viable. This has helped convince other countries to support the enlargement of the Montreal Protocol.
You can listen to our podcast with Bas Eickhout to get a good grasp of what is at stake regarding F-gases