The parties negotiating the final passage of the F-Gas regulations are preparing for compromises on key points in order to move the proposals into EU law.
Speaking at the Atmosphere conference on natural refrigerants in mid-October, parties on all sides of the negotiations expressed their desire to conclude talks, in order to send a clear signal to the cooling industry. But they conceded that compromises may have to be struck if they are to reach their goal of closing negotiations by the end of the year.
At the conference, a panel of policymakers who will be key to the final discussions on the F-Gas regulations explained their positions, which on a number of points are poles apart.
However, Green Party MEP Bas Eickhout, the rapporteur for the regulation, expressed confidence that the parties were close, if not to agreement, at least to a compromise. “I have a good feeling we can close the negotiations this year, so that Europe can say it is leading on this.”
For European regulations, while the initial proposal comes from the European Commission (effectively Brussels-based civil servants) the final structure depends on agreement being reached between the European Parliament, representing MEPs and the Council of the EU, representing ministers from member countries.
From the debate at Atmosphere it was clear that there is still something of a gulf on several measures between the wishes of those in Parliament, generally who are in favour of stricter controls, and those of the Council and the Commission, which steps back to the role of facilitator for these final negotiations. The most contentious points are the speed of the proposed HFC phase-down and the recommendation for a series of bans on high-GWP refrigerants and equipment containing them.
EC member Bente Tranholm-Schwarz summarised the Commission’s position on the subject: “It is very easy to make layer upon layer to make the world perfect, but we need to find the right balance to find what can be implemented without a disproportionate administrative burden.”
But she urged the Council and Parliament to reach a swift settlement. She said; “The EU can play a leading role in the climate talks [on phasing out HFCs globally under the Montreal Protocol] if the proposal is out as soon as possible.”
In response, Mr Eickhout underlined the need for a strong ambition from Europe. “The cornerstone of the proposal is the HFC phase-down schedule and we set an ambitious timescale, but the Council has [sought to make] it safer. The bans are going to be a key discussion as we believe they can bring about change at a low administrative burden.”
Mr Eickhout also reiterated that the ban on importing equipment that is pre-charged with refrigerant and the charge for every tonne of HFCs produced remained key elements in Parliament’s proposals.
He said: “We don’t see any reason to change the pre-charge ban and we want to keep the allocation fee for HFC production – as we want to prevent the windfall profits that we saw with HCFCs being applied to HFCs. It should however not be seen as a tax but as continuing the ‘polluter pays’ principle.”
Some experts believe the series of bans being proposed will require “trade offs” among the politicians, since many of the Council’s minister members are believed to be vehemently opposed because of the potential impact on their national industries. One person close to the negotiations said: “Some of the new equipment bans are proposed to start in only three or four years, and the ministers do not believe they are practically or financially feasible. But Parliament is adamant, so it is quite possible that they will concede on some bans in return for pushing through others.”
One observer said: “I think people have accepted there will be a phase-down and there will be some bans. The question is how fast and how many.”
But Mr Eickhout expressed confidence in the Parliament’s position. He said: “The industry needs a clear signal. I don’t see that some of the concerns of the Council are real concerns – and too many exemptions to the regulation would not send that clear signal.”