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The future of HFCs

The potential phasing-down of HFCs has long become an emotive subject for the cooling industry, effectively polarising people into two camps.

Very simply put, in camp one are those that believe we should retain the ability to use the most energy-efficient gases available, thereby minimising indirect emissions at the power station, and that the ongoing focus should be on improving containment. They argue that the potential cost, training burden and lack of cast-iron data about the alternatives make it too risky to consider speedy replacement.

In the other camp are those who believe that the global warming potential of HFCs, combined with the industry’s historic inability to keep it in the system, provide too potent a cocktail for the environment, and therefore the gases should be replaced as soon as is practically possible with less environmentally harmful gases.

They argue that the potential benefits of the alternatives outweigh the difficulties to such an extent that imposing restrictions on HFCs will spur the industry into solving the problems of training and cost.

At worst, those in the ‘right to retain HFCs’ camp portray their opponents as risk-taking green zealots, rushing into natural alternatives before they have been properly proven in the field.

Equally, those in the ‘alternatives now’ camp portray their rivals as risk-averse Canutes trying to turn back the tide of environmental progress.

Until fairly recently this has been an argument waged on conference podiums, on climate committees and via noisy PR campaigns.

Even when retailers, conscious of their corporate responsibility and increasingly of the potential carbon tax burden, started introducing naturals strategies, large swathes of the refrigeration industry were still able to carry on business as usual, safe in the knowledge that their non-retail customers wouldn’t be embracing new techniques while there were cheaper HFC options available.

But now the world has changed, seemingly overnight. Thanks to the powerful backing of the European Parliament, the rapid phase-down of HFCs is a proposal on the desk of European Commissioners.

To add to that, Connie Hedegaard, the Commissioner for Climate Action, has said she wants to legislate further on F-gases next year.

It is now clearly something that has to be taken seriously by the industry.

The logic runs that the 2020 carbon emissions targets cannot be met without a stricter control of HFCs than the F-Gas Regulation allows for and, in any case, the European Commission says, it hasn’t achieved what it was supposed to achieve.

Fortunately, the EC has provided a platform for the industry to make its views known, because, rather than just ushering in changes to the law without further recourse – which has been known – the European Commission has opened the proposals to public consultation.

It presents a crucial opportunity to inform future policy, and so representative bodies are keen to hear the industry’s voice.

A number have issued position papers, with the range of views demonstrating the fact that this industry is a broad church.

ACRIB, the air conditioning and refrigeration industry board, which is the umbrella body for the industry, is leading the response in the UK, and overleaf it sets out why it believes that this represents a vital opportunity to hold the European Commission to account for making the F-Gas Regulation work.

At the same time, the consultation presents an opportunity for supporters of a rapid phase-down to present their own rationale; and so here we also present views from natural refrigerants body Eurammon, together with a more controversial position from green lobbyist and agent provocateur the Environmental Investigation Agency.

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