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European Standing Committee A Debates

Controls on Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases

European Standing Committee A

Wednesday 14 January 2004

[Mr. Bill O'Brien in the Chair]

Controls on Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases

2 pm

The Minister for the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): How pleased I am to see you in the Chair, Mr. O'Brien, for this interesting debate on the scrutiny of the draft European policy on fluorinated gases.

The proposed regulation on certain fluorinated gases is a key element in the first phase of the European climate change programme. It implements a legislative framework to reduce emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride—HFCs, PFCs and SF6 respectively—which are all powerful greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto protocol.

If adopted, the proposed regulation will introduce a general obligation to take all technologically and economically feasible measures to minimise emissions of fluorinated greenhouse gases. Specifically, it would introduce measures on the containment, use and recovery of certain fluorinated greenhouse gases; restrictions on the placing on the market of some products and equipment containing them; and obligations to report on them given the Kyoto commitments.

As a general principle, the United Kingdom welcomes the proposal's aims. Having said that, my officials have concerns about the exact wording of some of the proposed measures. We are seeking amendments to ensure that the requirements are clear to both regulators and industry, and that they are easily enforceable.

The proposed legislation would have an impact on many sectors—most notably and importantly the automotive sector, owing to a proposed ban on the use of fluorinated gases with a global warming potential of more than 150 in mobile air conditioning systems of new passenger vehicles and light commercial vehicles. How the gases are treated is one of the key issues. Those involved in refrigeration, air conditioning and fire-detection equipment, manufacturers who use fluorinated gases and all those who use, service or maintain those products would also be greatly affected.

The proposals would also introduce mandatory certification schemes for certain personnel involved in the handling of fluorinated gases when equipment is serviced or reaches the end of its life. The gases have to be properly and safely dealt with, contained and disposed of.

The Government support this important measure, particularly for the refrigeration and air conditioning sector. We have been considering it with the relevant UK industry for some time. There is a great deal of

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support for good standards in training and skills and in the management, servicing and recycling of such gases.

The fluorinated gases included in the scope of the proposal, particularly HFCs, were developed to replace ozone-depleting substances such as CFCs and HCFCs— chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochloro- fluorocarbons Although HFCs do not damage the ozone layer, they have a high global warming potential. They are included in the basket of six gases on which the European Community has agreed to take action in order to meet its commitments on climate change under the Kyoto protocol.

In 2000, the Government published our policy on such gases as part of the UK's climate change programme. The proposed regulation is in line with our policy in that it aims to introduce cost-effective measures to ensure that emissions are minimised and do not rise unchecked. That is a major commitment from the UK, which is supported by many of my hon. Friends and Members of all parties.

The proposal is expected to assist the European Community to meet its target of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases by 8 per cent. below the 1990 level by 2008 to 2012. As proposed, it is estimated that there will be a reduction in emissions in fluorinated gases in the European Community of 23 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2010. In its current form, the regulation would reduce total UK emissions of fluorinated gases between 2005 and 2025 by approximately 40 per cent. That is a significant amount: it is the climate change potential equivalent of a reduction from 250 million tonnes of carbon to 150 million tonnes.

Informal consultation with all stakeholders on the proposed regulation began shortly after its publication in August 2003. Since then, two stakeholder meetings have been held—on 16 September and 12 December last year. A partial regulatory impact assessment was completed in November and a formal 12-week public consultation has been launched on the RIA and on the proposal more generally, for which the closing date is 23 February. Early submissions have been encouraged and we have had a good response.

The data presented in the partial RIA are based on a report that was prepared for the Government by consultants. The report attempts to assess the costs and benefits of the proposal to the UK. The RIA identifies the sectors affected by the proposals and potential implications. Headline costs and benefit figures suggest that there are plenty of measures in the proposal that allow for cost-effective abatement of emissions. That is important and will be of interest to the Committee.

However, the regulation as proposed would not, as a whole, pass the cost-benefit test. I imagine that that is one reason why the Committee wanted to scrutinise the proposal. There are some concerns about how it is currently drafted and the Government recognise that. The test is primarily a function of the proposed ban on certain fluorinated gases with a global warming potential greater than 150. Concerns are particularly relevant to the mobile air conditioning sector. The proposed ban would greatly increase the estimated

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costs to the UK of complying with the regulation as proposed. The estimated cost impact of the proposed measures on the mobile air-conditioning equipment sector is between £34 million and £174 million per annum.

We believe that there is a more cost-effective approach to reducing emissions of fluorinated gases and that such systems should focus primarily on reducing leakage rates—that is also one of the key issues—starting, for example, by requiring the use of the so-called enhanced HFC 134a system, which is specially designed to produce a very low leakage rate. We estimate that if we concentrated on minimising leakages, the cost to the UK would be reduced to between £31 million and £36 million per annum. Given the scale of the industry, that is a very low cost and would only slightly reduce the benefits in comparison with those gained under the proposals.

The UK wants to ensure that the proposal is amended accordingly; that is our top objective. That would lead to a much more proportionate cost and benefit for the entire proposal. The Environment Council working group has already started discussions on that particular proposal. Those discussions are focused particularly on the proposed treaty base and on the measures covering mobile air conditioning in new vehicles.

The UK has expressed concerns about how the proposed measures relating to vehicles will operate alongside other European legislation on whole vehicle type approval. Those concerns are shared by some other member states, so we are not alone. Officials are considering the best way to resolve those issues. In addition, the UK wants to ensure that all measures related to limited emissions of fluorinated gases from mobile air conditioning equipment in new vehicles are introduced on a realistic timetable.

There has been a lot of criticism—it has been raised in Committee—that some of the timetables for implementation of directives and regulations have not been realistic and that it has been difficult to adapt them for companies and affected groups. We have every sympathy with that and will make it clear that although we support the general principles behind the proposal—they are sensible and set good objectives—time scales and application must be realistic.

The UK is looking for a way forward on the complex issue of the most appropriate legal base for the proposals. I suggested some amendments to the text in order to try to provide greater clarity and legal certainty for both regulators and industry. We expect the European Parliament to hold the equivalent of First Reading of the proposal in March 2004, and we are working towards a political agreement in the Environment Council in June.

We accept that there is still a lot of work to do. Generally, the proposal takes a good approach that is based on sound and pragmatic reasons, but we want to make sure that it is workable and cost-effective and that the timetables are reasonable.

The Chairman: I remind Members of the procedure, which I intend to follow. We have until 3 o'clock for questions. Members should ask brief questions one at

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a time and answers should be short. Members may ask as many questions as possible between now and 3 o'clock.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): I am most interested in leakage. I listened carefully to what the Minister said about minimising it, but, given our bad experience of the leakage of CFCs into the atmosphere, especially after a decision was taken to remove fridges that contained them, what assurances can he give me that leakage minimisation can be made effective? What is the current position with the leakage of HFCs? Has he an estimate of the tonnage, or an idea of a percentage on which we could improve, of the leakage of those detrimental gases and the greenhouse effect?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly answer the main thrust of the hon. Lady's questions. There is a particular standard for automotive air conditioning systems. Those systems are built, designed and maintained to a higher standard than that which currently applies. That standard is the enhanced HFC 134a system.

I do not think that there are estimates of current leakages from air conditioning units in cars. Of course, the area is attracting much more interest, particularly since the phasing out of CFCs. Indeed, modern car systems do not have CFCs in them, as I mentioned. We are trying to get much more accurate information, and that is one reason why the proposal has been made. It is fair to say that car air conditioning systems are not robust when it comes to leakage. Members will have found that older cars with air conditioning units need occasionally to be recharged and pumped up. Leakages from car air conditioning systems are common at present.

There is an issue that the Committee needs to discuss. We are certainly talking about a global warming potential of more than 150 when it comes to phasing out the chemicals and gases currently used in car air conditioning systems, but if such gases were housed in more robust and reliable air conditioning systems that minimised leakages, we could achieve just as good an outcome at a much lower cost. That is the kind of issue that we need to consider. We also need to evaluate the information that is available, although I suspect that it is limited.

 
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