EU backs big curbs on superstrength greenhouse gases

EU parliament votes overwhelmingly for partial ban on potent greenhouse gases used in fridges and airconditioners

Source: Flickr/the justified sinner

Source: Flickr/the justified sinner

By John McGarrity

MEPs have voted for a partial ban of a potent greenhouse gas that is used in fridges and airconditioners, but the effectiveness of the move on a global scale may be blunted by the refusal of India to phase out the use of so-called f-gases.

Members of the European Parliament will this afternoon vote on proposals to partially ban the use of gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), or fluorinated gases (F-gases).

“I really hope that other big emitters who have announced action to tackle these dangerous greenhouse gases will now follow Europe’s example and also pass domestic legislation. This will send a clear signal about their commitment to tackle climate change,” said Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate chief.

Keeping it cool: I welcome ‘beginning of end’ for super-warming greenhouse gases #fgases

— Connie Hedegaard (@CHedegaardEU) March 12, 2014

MEPs backed the proposal approved by 644 in favour, with only 19 against and 16 abstentions.

Because the chemicals are 2,500 times more potent than carbon dioxide, fluorinated gases are an f-word to green groups and climate scientists, who want countries such as China and India to follow the EU’s lead and use alternatives.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has proposed cutting the amount of HFCs used in the 28-member bloc by four fifths and ban their use in commercial refrigeration by 2022, while revamps of current equipment won’t be able to use the gases from the end of this decade.

Refrigerant gases account for around 2 percent of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions but curbs on their use globally have been hindered by developing countries.

India, which is the biggest f-gas producer, has blocked amendments to the Montreal Protocol, the 1987 global treaty that regulates the use of refrigerant gases to prevent damage to the Ozone layer, adding that any regulation should be done through the Kyoto Protocol instead.

The Ozone layer prevents dangerous ultraviolet radiation from reaching earth and banned the use clorfluorcarbons (CFCs), only to replace them with HFCs, which have a much more damaging impact on the atmosphere.

India argues that alternatives to f-gases are much more expensive and would make refrigeration and airconditioning too inaccessible to the hundreds of millions of people the Indian government wants to lift from poverty.

Perverse incentive

Developing countries have earned hundreds of millions of dollars from cutting a byproduct of HFC manufacture through the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon offset market, but green groups say the trade has created a ‘perverse incentive’ to keep manufacturing f-gas refrigerants.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which campaigns for an end to f-gases, says the refrigerants and their byproducts are responsible for 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and  if unchecked could rise to 9-19% of global CO2 emissions by 2050.

And despite the Montreal Protocol’s success in slashing the use of CFCs, the difficulties in enforcing regulations globally has been highlighted by the recent discovery of new compounds  that both harm the Ozone layer and warm the climate.

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