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Government criticised over lack of fresh commitments in F-Gas report response

Whitehall states its intention to remain part of F-Gas system for at least EU withdrawal period, with longer-term plans for compliance subject to Brexit negotiations

Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee has expressed disappointment over a lack of clear targets and timeframes from the government in order to tackle concerns over its ability to meet the ambitions of EU F-Gas regulation.

A statement from the cross-party body, which considers how government departments and other public-sector organisations are contributing to sustainable initiatives, was critical of commitments from government to meet the key recommendations in its report. This includes amednements in areas such as heat pump subsidies.

The committee’s comments were made after the publication of the government’s response to a report it published earlier this year around the UK’s work to reduce F-Gas emissions. Government used the response to set out its intention to remain part of the F-Gas system at the very least until the UK’s withdrawal period from the EU ends.

The response stated, “What happens after that is subject to negotiations on the UK’s long-term relationship with the EU where we are seeking a close partnership. We are exploring all options including staying in the EU system.”

“Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, the government intends to maintain the current pace of HFC phase down in order to maintain the high level of environmental ambition and provide certainty for businesses which have already invested on the basis of the current phase down schedule.”

As part of its response, government also detailed policy its aims concerning low GWP inhalers for medical use, as well as its decision to avoid revising heat pump incentives.

Recommendations by the Environmental Audit Committee to prioritise heat pump technology exclusively designed for lower GWP products were rejected in the response. The government’s decision was said to be based on the findings of a study that it conducted that urged improved uptake of all forms of heat pump technology.

The response document said, “The F-Gas quota cuts are already driving industry to look for low GWP alternatives for heat pumps. Any additional measures to reduce the use of high GWP refrigerants must not hinder heat pump uptake as that would be counter-productive for the environment.”

“Around 20,000 heat pumps are currently installed each year in the UK, of which around 20–25 per cent are supported by the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The current RHI scheme runs until 2020/21. Any changes to its terms could not be applied retrospectively and so would only capture a small number of heat pump installations.”

Concerns were also raised by the government that the switch to alternative refrigerants that largely have a low level of flammability could also threaten to serve as a barrier to increased use of heat pumps. The response said that Whitehall would continue to work closely with industry on switching to these lower GWP products without slowing the pace of heat pump uptake.

Critical concerns

Mary Creagh, the Environmental Audit Committee chair, was critical of the government’s response to its heat pump recommendations.

She said, ““The government’s failure to address the subsidy scheme for heat pumps means that up to 15,000 heat pumps using F-gases will be paid for by the taxpayer over the next three years.”

Ms Creagh said the committee had also been disappointed at a lack of urgency and clear targets for achieving the core recommendations in its F-Gas report. This was despite acknowledging a broadly positive response from Whitehall to the report’s recommendations.

She added, “Tackling F-Gas emissions is crucial to reducing the UK’s greenhouse gas output, and doing so would demonstrate our commitment to tackling climate change. Last month, the Committee on Climate Change expressed support for our F-gas policy recommendations, given its warnings that the UK may miss its overall carbon budgets.”

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