Official Journal of the European Union

C 108/62

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain fluorinated greenhouse gases’

(COM(2003) 492 final – 0189/2003 COD)

(2004/C 108/12)

On 9 September 2003, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 95 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on this subject, adopted its opinion on 18 December 2003 The rapporteur was Mr Sears.

At its 495th plenary session held on 28 and 29 January 2004 (meeting of 28 January 2004), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion unanimously.

1.   Introduction


The earth is surrounded by gases, some of which absorb and reflect heat, causing temperatures at ground level to rise. This is the greenhouse effect. Concentrations of the gases causing this (carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour, nitrous oxide, ozone and some deliberately made substances including fluorinated gases) have increased as a result of human activity.


If these trends, and the associated global warming, cannot be restrained or reversed, they will lead to permanent and potentially harmful climate change. Balancing this with the needs of peoples at all levels of development around the globe is the greatest challenge currently facing humanity.


The international response was defined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), adopted in 1992, and by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The EU has made climate change a priority for its 6th Environment Action Programme 2001-2010.


In June 2000 the EU established the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) as a multi-stakeholder consultative process to determine how the EU could best meet its Kyoto targets. In its first report in June 2001, the ECCP identified 42 cost-effective options to reduce greenhouse emissions by 664-765 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MT CO2 eq.). These included actions to restrict the use and emissions of certain fluorinated gases.

2.   Summary of the Commission's proposal


The proposal seeks to limit emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), used widely as refrigerants, cleaning solvents and foam blowing agents, and in medical and specialty applications, including fire-fighting, semi-conductor and switch gear manufacture and the production of magnesium.


These substances are powerful greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol. The actions proposed are expected to reduce their emissions by 23 million tonnes to 75 MT CO2 eq. by 2010, with the possibility of further reductions as the measures take full effect.


The proposal is based on Article 95 of the Treaty. Measures to harmonise requirements on monitoring, containment and use will assist Member States in meeting their obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, whilst providing essential protection for the internal market.


Article 3 provides for the monitoring and containment of leaks from stationary refrigeration, air-conditioning, heat pump and fire protection systems. Article 4 refers to the servicing and end-of-use recovery of the gases for recycle, reclamation or destruction. Article 6 requires producers, importers and exporters to maintain records of production, trade in and use of these fluorinated gases, and to report these data to the Commission. Articles 7 and 8 prohibit the placing on the market and subsequent use of certain fluorinated gases in specific applications.


Articles 9 and 10 deal specifically with the use of fluorinated gases in Mobile Air-Conditioning systems (MACs) in cars and light goods vehicles. A transferable quota system is proposed to allow manufacturers time to introduce the necessary changes in a cost-effective manner. Other than as provided for in Article 10, the use of fluorinated gases with a Global Warming Potential (GWP, after 100 years, v CO2 taken as 1) >150 to fill new vehicles placed on the market from 1 January 2009 is prohibited.

3.   General comments


The EESC recognises the continuing and urgent need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and strongly supports the Commission in its drive for full ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. It therefore welcomes this proposal on the control and use of certain fluorinated gases. The actions proposed have been developed in conjunction with affected stakeholders to provide Member states with cost-effective measures to meet their emissions reduction targets. The EESC hopes that these will in turn provide models for countries outside the EU to follow.


The activities covered by the proposal (refrigeration, air conditioning, medical and specialty applications) are increasingly regarded as essential to the continuation of human life. Without them, the daily provision of fresh food would become impossible, and the undertaking of safe and productive activity at home, at work or during travel would become increasingly difficult.


However activities to mitigate these effects of heat can also contribute to global warming, by the leakage of the refrigerants used (direct effects) and by the increased use of power to drive the cooling system (indirect effects). Indirect effects normally outweigh direct effects. For a domestic refrigerator the power usage accounts for 96 % of total emissions. The use of a MAC unit in a car increases fuel use and emissions by up to 20 %.


The choice of refrigerant is largely restricted to ammonia, carbon dioxide, water, hydrocarbons or fluorocarbons (HFCs). Each has advantages and disadvantages; no new molecules are expected to be identified for this use in the short term. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), introduced in the 1930s as safe and cheap alternatives to ammonia, sulphur dioxide or hydrocarbons, are already being phased out under the Montreal Protocol due to their high Ozone Depleting Potentials (ODPs); they also tend to have high GWPs.


For domestic refrigeration, the problem of flammability of the preferred replacement, iso-butane, has been overcome, with low initial charges (30-60gms) and leakage rates, and the use of explosion proof electrical systems.


Commercial systems depend on ammonia on remote sites or where there are trained personnel used to working in potentially hazardous conditions, or on mixtures of HFCs, e.g., in supermarkets, where safety is paramount due to the presence of the public. In these cases, improved design, monitoring and containment are essential.


The growth in demand for MACS in private cars follows falling costs and growing awareness of the effects of local climate change. However, the initial charge (750gms) of refrigerant, typically HFC 134a with low flammability but a GWP of 1300, is far larger than in a domestic refrigerator. Lifetime use is much greater (1200-2400gms). Indirect effects are greater still.


Under these conditions, redesign and better containment are imperative, to permit the safe use of either HFC 152a, which is mildly flammable but with a GWP of only 140; butane, which is extremely flammable but with a GWP of only 3; or of carbon dioxide which is non-flammable but which requires higher pressures, may result in higher fuel use and which could lead to asphyxiation of those inside the vehicle in the event of an accident. The implications for engine and body design, servicing and end of life venting or recycling are all important.


The EESC believes that greater urgency is required so that MACs can be incorporated within the type approval process for all new models placed on the European market. The development by the Commission of EU standards for the measurement of leakages and of total emissions and their impact on air pollution and climate change, with and without MACs in use, are key steps towards this.


The EESC agrees with the Commission that, in order to safeguard the global environment, the Treaty base for this proposal should be Article 95, to provide direction and protection to the internal market in the sectors most affected. For full impact, it is essential to establish long term sustainable trends in consumer preferences and in associated manufacturing innovation in these globally supplied industries. The EU needs to maintain its leadership role, continuing the process of consultation with stakeholders and providing incentives for positive actions and a framework in which they can be undertaken in a timely and cost-effective manner.


National governments have important roles to play in this via exchange of best practice, e.g., monitoring systems in place in Sweden (reducing leaks from commercial and retail installations from 30-40 % to 5-8 %) and the Netherlands (the STEK system for leak-free refrigeration equipment) and in the provision of systems to inform and reward consumer choice on decisions affecting the global environment. Energy labelling, already having a major impact on domestic systems, should be extended to commercial and mobile systems as quickly as possible.


As a number of countries already subject to the Montreal and Kyoto Protocols but in different stages and with different rates of internal development accede to the EU, the EESC encourages the Commission to continue to work for sustainable and realistic reductions in the emission of greenhouse gases, protecting the widened internal market and providing a level playing field for manufacturers and importers. The EESC agrees that a Regulation is the appropriate legal instrument for this proposal.

4.   Specific comments


The recital must include considerations of the safety and health of all those involved throughout the life cycle of the products concerned.


Some definitions are missing. Clarity is required over 'operator'/'owner' of stationary systems. The Commission should work with the affected parties to ensure that real-life situations are fully covered.


The recommendations with respect to containment are weak, with little requirement for action or for focused monitoring of unreliable and leaky installations. The Swedish and Dutch systems should be followed more closely. As incentives grow to reduce leaks at the design stage, so the frequency of monitoring of new energy-efficient installations with demonstrated low leakage rates should be allowed to decrease. This should be irrespective of the refrigerant used. Users should see leak reduction both as a cost benefit and as a contribution to their environmental performance. Voluntary agreements, labelling and award schemes, information via trade journals, and consumer recognition of progress made, can all be utilised to bring about the desired changes to existing practices.


Article 5 provides for training for personnel involved in containment and recovery, but not for installation, maintenance and inspection. This will be essential if the changes are to be effective.


The EESC supports the reporting processes outlined in Article 6. National reporting against EU air standards is of variable quality: without a consistent and robust database, it will be hard to determine what progress has been made or what further actions are required.


Given the need to balance hazards and benefits in refrigeration and air conditioning, it would be preferable for these specific activities to be the subject of future legislative action, including type approval for MACs, rather than, as here, focusing on only one set of refrigerants.


The quota system for emissions from MACs is complex and it is hard to see that it is strictly necessary. Provided the time-scale is realistic, type approvals for new models based on all aspects of energy efficiency and emissions limitation and applying equally to manufacturers and importer from, say, 2012, would be the preferred course. A cut-off date should also be set, e.g. 2020, by which time all new cars, whether new or existing models, should be fully compliant with the new standards. Schemes to increase the replacement rate for existing non-compliant models should also be encouraged.


Finally the role and responsibility of the consumer is critical. Where activities are regarded as essential, the consumer should be aware of the choices available and of the consequences of each choice. Where there are special costs, for instance for servicing or at disposal, these should be identified and passed on. Labelling schemes have played an important role in increasing the energy efficiency of domestic refrigerators; this, with the Commission's help, should be extended to other aspects of refrigeration and air conditioning as quickly as possible.


For other applications which are optional but relatively trivial or for which safer alternatives are readily available, then the Commission's approach as set out in Articles 7, 8 and in Annex II seems appropriate and is supported by the EESC. Voluntary agreements, accompanied by steady progress and the exchange of best practice, are preferred in complex and essential areas such as drug delivery via Measured Dose Inhalers (MDIs).


Other uses of fluorinated gases, e.g., in heavy goods vehicles, and in road, rail and sea-borne refrigeration systems, not covered by this proposal should be included in later proposals when the necessary data become available.

Brussels, 28 January 2004.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee