Parliament committee hearing raises concerns that industry efforts to curb HFC has flatlined ahead of further reductions in EU-defined quota next year
The Federation of Environmental Trade Associations (FETA) has defended the pace of efforts by the UK cooling industry to move to lower GWP refrigerants during an investigation by parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee into HFC use.
The organisation said that business sectors such as retailers have been active for several years in investing and amending their cooling systems to try to meet quotas set out in the EU’s F-Gas regulation, despite concerns raised by the committee about overall progress.
FETA commercial manager Martyn Cooper said the cooling industry should largely be proud of progress the sector was making to meet EU defined quota targets
He said, “It can’t happen over night obviously, there is a process that has to happen, but I think the whole industry is moving in that direction.”
The comments were made in response to questions from the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee during an inquiry on progress to cut down F-Gas emissions for functions such as cooling, as well as the impact Brexit may have on current commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Committee chair MP Mary Creagh noted during the session that sister parliamentary body, the Committee on Climate Change had recently concluded that progress on reducing HFCs emissions had “flatlined”.
Clare Perry, climate campaign leader for the Environmental Investigation Agency NGO, responded that despite the slowdown, she believed that F-Gas targets were still possible to be met. However, she was critical of the industry’s progress to prepare for upcoming quota reductions on HFC use.
She said, “I think what’s happening is there was a freeze in 2015 and quite a small cut in 2016 and there was a lot of stockpiling in 2014, so I don’t think there is any reason to think that the UK or any other member states cannot meet the targets in 2015 or 2016.”
“The question is whether we are making enough progress now to meet the next two steps in 2018 and 2021, which are much more significant in terms of the reductions in HFC consumption.”
Immediate action required
Ms Perry said a significant challenge was that immediate action was needed to address ongoing changes to emissions targets.
“The UK seems to be going ok as far as we know, but it is quite difficult to know. Certainly, in other EU countries there is concern that a big sector such as the supermarket sector, which has a very high consumption, isn’t moving quick enough into the lower GWP alternatives.”
Mike Nankivell, chairman of ACRIB’s F-Gas implementation group, said he had been personally surprised by comments from the parliamentary Committee on Climate Change that it believed efforts to reduce HFCs in the UK were flatlining.
“Thus far I was surprised a little bit by [the committee’s] comments because although we accepted under the original F-Gas regulation that emissions were expected to flatline, under the revised and due regulation that isn’t borne out. We haven’t seen a full set of data to verify that one way of the other.”
Committee chair MP Mary Creagh cited findings from the government-funded National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) that she said found that emissions had been the same for three years up to 2015.
Mr Nankivell said a flatlining in performance had been predicted in the original regulation that was amended in 2014 to strengthen targets.
He added, “I think it is perhaps a little early to say that trend won’t reverse.”
The committee also asked the panel about industry efforts to adopt alterative lower GWP products and the anticipated impact of the introduction next year of the most significant cuts to quotas under the F-Gas regulation.
FETA’s Martyn Cooper said that a massive upcoming reduction in availability of product for would see further hikes in cost for R404A, the most commonly used and highest GWP refrigerant available. He said costs had already increased by around 700 per cent.
Mr Cooper added,” whereas three years ago it may have been less that £10 a kilo, it’s now up to £70 to £90 for the same quantity.”
However, he pointed the committee to the work of Marks and Spencer to ensure little or no R404A refrigerant was used in the company’s estate. This was made possible due to the retailer changing to R407A, which has halved the global warming potential compared to R404A, Mr Cooper claimed.
Refcom’s Graeme Fox told the committee that from a practical standpoint, retailers had already heavily invested in revising cooling equipment. Therefore, any future switch to ultra-low GWP gases would require wholesale stripping out and replacement of plant.
Mr Fox said, “This isn’t very environmentally friendly from a total carbon footprint point of view. If they can actually improve leakage rates, which I think retailers have worked quite hard on in the last five or six years, then it makes sense to go to a lower GWP gas as an interim measure, which they have done.”
Both Mr Fox and Mr Cooper argued that newer stores were now switching over to ultra-low GWP products straight away.
Speaking before the panel, Mr Fox was also asked about views from the Committee on Climate Change that EU F-Gas regulation targets had not been set high enough and should be accelerated.
He argued that the statement failed to consider the significant challenge of investment already required to meet existing targets. Any considerations to go even further on these targets should have therefore been planned during the formation of the original quota targets over half a decade ago.
Mr Fox said that as opposed to improving the F-Gas regulation itself, compliance and enforcement of HFC quotas should be prioritised.
Ms Perry said that the Environmental Investigation Agency would welcome an acceleration of targets to cut out the use of HFCs entirely as had been recently suggested by the Committee on Climate Change chair.
However, she accepted there were significant supply challenges coming for the industry in 2018 when the latest quota reductions were introduced.
Ms Perry said, “Obviously there is a big crunch coming next year, so even we wouldn’t suggest that we should immediately change legislation and make the phase down much quicker in the next couple of years.”
“We do think it can be strengthened and can be quicker, but obviously these next couple of years are crucial and we should probably maintain the existing ambition in the near future.”