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HFC phase-down talks at stalemate - delay could mean two year wait

MEPs and member state negotiators appear unlikely to reach a deal at a final round of negotiations this week on a timetable for phasing out HFCs, however further delays could mean a wait of up to two years for decision.

According to European Voice Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout, who is leading negotiations for the Parliament, said: “It’s going to be tough, there’s still a huge gap between the positions. If I just look at the official mandate now on the table for the Council, that’s very clearly unacceptable for the parliament.”  

If no agreement can be reached this week, it is possible to schedule another trilogue meeting next week or the following week. But the Lithuanian presidency of the Council of Ministers has said it wants to close this file by the end of the year.  

The disagreement centres on two requests from the Parliament – to add additional bans at sub-sectoral level (mainly in refrigeration and air conditioning) and to add a pricing mechanism to ensure that the big five producers of HFCs don’t make a windfall profit from the free allocation of quotas for HFC use. 

The European Commission has proposed a freeze from 2015 on the maximum amount of fluorinated gases (the most damaging HFCs, known as F-gases) allowed on the market, followed by a gradual reduction in their use.

Under the plan, companies would be given a quantity of free quotas, and have to purchase allowances for use beyond that amount. The makers of HFCs say there are no suitable alternatives for some product categories.  

But member states want a more lenient approach than that proposed by the Commission, with a slower timetable, and exemptions for certain HFCs.

However, a delay in a decision until after Christmas could mean a real risk that the F-Gas regulaion is not finalised for as long as two years. That was the stark warning from consultant Ray Gluckman to the audience at RAC’s Retail Question Time last month.

The two-year delay would occur because the European Parliament breaks next year, stalling the passage of the regulations to full legislation.

Mr Gluckman, whose company SKM Enviros is close to the negotiations, having advised both the European Commission and UK ministers, told the RQT audience: “I am afraid that there is a 50:50 chance the parties won’t agree this side of Christmas and if that happens we will have to wait two more years because there is a parliamentary break. I think that’s would be an awful possibility for all of you in the room.”

The negotiations were being thrashed out in Brussels as RAC went to press, with the European Parliament, representing MEPs and the Council of the EU, representing national ministers, still at loggerheads over a number of points.

The major sticking point is believed to be the range of bans being proposed, which the council believes in many cases are too severe for the national industries to cope with practically and cost-effectively. As reported in RAC last month, the MEPs see the bans as key elements in the quest to reduce emissions, seeing them as a cost-effective way to drive change.

The outcome looks set to either be a series of trade-offs, as the parties seek to hammer out a solution before Christmas, or a long delay in the regulation.

Mr Gluckman said: “The industry’s future depends on what happens in the next two weeks in Brussels. We know that there will be a phase-down, but inevitably there will be compromises over one ban or the other. If the council wins out, there will be flexibility, but if parliament wins out, we may get lots of bans.” See page 12 for more.

An indication of the way things may be going over bans was provided by the environmental lobby. As RAC went to press,  a collective of  green organisations including Greenpeace and the Environmental Investigation Agency was making a last-ditch appeal to all EU ministers for strong F-Gas regulations. They urged ministers to push for ‘more ambition’ ahead of what was described as ‘dismal’ UN climate talks in Warsaw, where no global actions were taken on HFCs.

See RAC December issue for the full Retail Question Time event

Readers' comments (1)

  • Why is it an awful possibility for all in the room - to quote Ray Gluckman?
    It seems to me that to most of us it will make no difference.
    If anything, the uncertainty will feed for another couple of years all the consultants and refrigerant companies that go around scar mongering and charging for it at the same time.
    The uncertainty and further delay could extend further the length of the existing plant that is operating.
    Uncertainty seems to feed a lot of mouths in this industry. A ban probably feeds even more.
    Telling that Mr Gluckman never said that a delay would be awful for the environment, but then perhaps that has nothing to do with any of this anyway.

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