32.We heard from witnesses on a range of concerns related to the current regime. This included non-compliance, inadequate resourcing for regulators and a fear that steeper cuts in HFCs due in 2018 and 2021 and additional responsibilities for UK regulators when the UK leaves the EU will put more strain on the system. We also took evidence on the Government’s plans to introduce civil penalties for F-gas breaches, which the Government hopes will increase the number of successful prosecutions and deter non-compliance. We also uncovered inconsistencies in the way F-gases are regulated, some of which we were told resulted from the framing of the MAC Directive.
33.We heard concerns from industry and others that the Environment Agency was not adequately resourced to ensure compliance with regulations. One industry witness pointed to non-compliant items and activities being advertised online. REFCOM’s Graeme Fox told us “Euro Car Parts in particular is selling [gas] and they are not checking if that person is qualified.” They were particularly worried that high GWP refrigerants and appliances containing them will become attractive when steeper reductions in HFCs emissions are introduced in 2018 and 2021, with UK ports a potential weakness in the regime. Industry witnesses were concerned that non-compliance put businesses that did comply at a competitive disadvantage. They argued this undermined the overall system. Although the Environment Agency told us that they monitored social media and had had over 40 investigations into compliance, there has been only one successful prosecution, which resulted from a company reporting its own breach. The Minister stated that the Environment Agency and DEFRA are liaising with HMRC to ensure sharing of information to check imports and enforce compliance.
34.We were disturbed to hear from industry and others that they suspect large levels of non-compliance. We are concerned that the Environment Agency does not have the adequate resources to tackle this problem. The low number of investigations and the single prosecution for a self-reported breach since the beginning of 2015, when the current F-gas Regulation came into effect, do not inspire confidence. This is especially concerning with deeper cuts in HFCs due in 2018 and 2021 and if the Environment Agency is to take on additional responsibilities as result of leaving the EU’s HFC Quota system in addition to the range of EU exit-related work it is already undertaking. DEFRA and the Environment Agency should publish plans for monitoring non-compliance, especially on social media sites, and how they will ensure with HMRC that there are no weaknesses in the F-gas regime now and after the UK leaves the EU. Online sellers have the tools to end environmental criminality on their platforms. They should use them.
35.We were told by the Environment Agency that the low level of prosecutions was in part due to only criminal sanctions being available, which made the burden of proof much higher. The Government has brought forward a new regime which relies on civil rather than criminal penalties. The new regime replaces all but one of the existing thirteen criminal sanctions with civil penalties in England, Scotland and offshore; a criminal offence will be retained for the intentional release of fluorinated greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (where the release is not technically necessary for the intended use). The intention is that this will increase the number of prosecutions and act as a deterrent. However, several witnesses questioned why so many criminal penalties have been removed, pointing to other environmental regulations, such as those proposed for mercury, where civil penalties are combined with a wider range of criminal penalties.
36.The introduction of civil penalties may increase the number of prosecutions and deter non-compliance. However, without a properly resourced regime, prosecutions will be difficult. We question the Government’s decision not to retain more criminal sanctions, which would have added to the deterrence effect for non-compliance, especially for the worst offences. We recommend that the Government reviews the effectiveness of the F-gas compliance regime annually, indicating the actions it is taking, the resource it is assigning to such activities, the number of investigations carried out and the number of successful prosecutions achieved.
37.We took evidence on non-registered mechanics handling high GWP refrigerants, which are used in car air conditioning systems. There was a particular concern that such mechanics might substitute cheap higher GWP refrigerants for more expensive lower GWP alternatives. Conversely, we also heard that as the EU Quota drove up the prices of high GWP refrigerants, some engineers were retrofitting mildly flammable lower GWP refrigerants into older non-flammable car air conditioning units, which could be dangerous. We were surprised when DEFRA told us that the MAC Directive allows members of the public to top-up their car air conditioning units with high GWP refrigerants, though it is illegal for them to recover HFCs or use top-up HFCs for other purposes.
38.It is essential that anybody who handles top-up refrigerants for car air conditioning units should be trained, certificated and monitored. Otherwise there is a real danger that high GWP HFCs will be discharged into the atmosphere. This appears in part a result of the wording of the Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC) Directive. The Government should set out how it will correct this deficiency and ensure that only qualified mechanics handle refrigerants for car air conditioning units.
39.We also heard more general problems relating to the training of those registered to use high GWP refrigerants. We were told that those trained under the old F-gas Regulation were not taught about low GWP alternatives. Furthermore, the new F-gas Regulation, which included training on the application of low GWP refrigerants, did not stipulate that there should be retrospective training. This is a particular problem because as the EU’s phase-down begins to bite it will lead to a demand for lower GWP alternatives, which in turn will require trained and qualified technicians who are familiar with their use. The Government have said that it will monitor whether enough resources are in place to ensure F-gas compliance, both in terms of business as usual activities and those resulting from the UK’s exit from the EU. They told us that: “Assessments of future resource needs for these activities will be made as part of future spending reviews”.
40.The fact that thousands of qualified engineers are not trained in relation to low GWP refrigerants is inhibiting the switch to low GWP alternatives. The Government should consult with industry and bring forward proposals to ensure that all those who handle refrigerants have up-to-date training.
41.We were surprised to hear that it was legal in 2017 for unqualified people to buy high GWP “technical aerosols” from high street retailers for an array of uses, such as freezing pipes and cleaning computer keyboards. However, from 1 January 2018 the sale of these products has been banned. We note the Environment Agency’s assurances that it monitors illegal online and over-the-counter selling of such products. However, enforcing new rules will represent an additional responsibility for the Environment Agency, which we have heard is already stretched.
42.We are pleased that technical aerosols using high GWP refrigerants will now be banned. However, we do not believe the Environment Agency has the resources to ensure compliance in this area while it is preparing to take on additional responsibilities as the UK leaves the EU. The Government should provide more detail in response to this report, on how it will police these banned products and how this will be resourced.
92 Q111 and Q118 Graeme Fox (REFCOM); Q119 to Q120 Martyn Cooper (Federation of Environmental Trade Associations); Q128 and Q129 Mike Nankivell (Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board); Q26 Lord Deben (Committee on Climate Change). See also: RFG0007 (Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board) and RFG0008 (REFCOM); RFG006 (Airedale International Air Conditioning Ltd).
93 Q146–148 Graeme Fox (REFCOM).
94 Q110 Clare Perry (Environmental Investigation Agency); Q91 Graeme Fox (REFCOM). For an overview of concerns about the possible international supply of HFCs see: Graham Donnelly Welch, HFC Smuggling: Preventing the Illicit (and Lucrative) Sale of Greenhouse Gases, Vol 44, No 2, (20170, pp 525–558.
95 Q130 Mike Nankivell (Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board); Q119 Martyn Cooper (Federation of Environmental Trade Associations); Q144 to Q146 Graeme Fox (REFCOM).
96 Q154 Dr Thérèse Coffey (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Q157 and Q223 Liz Parks (Environment Agency). They noted that the Environment Agency had received 44 tip offs since 2015 and monitored social media sites, such as Amazon and eBAy. DEFRA also provided additional information. It noted that over the past 12 months the Environment Agency’s online surveillance had led to the removal of 198 banned products from sale and it contacting 56 retailers that were not advising their customers of the requirement to hold certification when purchasing HFC refrigerants.
97 Q157 Liz Parks (Environment Agency). The offence occurred in 2013 and resulted in a £3,000 fine.
98 Q168 Dr Thérèse Coffey (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
99 Q222 to Q224 Liz Parkes (Environment Agency). See also: DEFRA, , (October 2017). The consultation also stated that pursuing criminal sanctions were costly and time intensive, which also mitigated against successful prosecutions. Since 2015, there has been only one successful prosecution. Schneider Electric was fined £3,000 and £18,368 costs for self-reporting a release of 15kg of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) gas (GWP 22,800) into the air from high voltage switchgear being installed at London Gateway Port in Essex. See: Refcom, , (April 2016).
100 See: .
101 The new civil penalties include fines up to £200,000.
102 Q59 Professor Richard Macrory; Q126 Clare Perry (Environmental Investigation Agency). For the Government’s proposals on mercury see: DEFRA and BEIS, , (October 2017). The Regulations were introduced in December 2017: . The Environment Agency noted that it had applied civil penalties to the and the and had served 180 civil sanctions since—Q222 Liz Parkes.
103 Q148 Clare Perry (Clare Perry (Environmental Investigation Agency) and Q143 and Q146 to Q147 Graeme Fox (REFCOM).
104 Q92 Graeme Fox (REFCOM). He mentioned engineers putting the lower GWP and mildly flammable R32 into systems designed to use R-410A, because the price of R-410A had risen by 300% in a few months.
105 Q146 and Q147 Graeme Fox (REFCOM). He argued that this undermined the training of engineers and the need for qualified persons to handle F-gases. For example, we found a range of over-the-counter air conditioning top up refrigerant for sale at stores such as and online at and .
106 Information supplied by Defra.
107 See Defra, , (accessed 18 February 2018). Individuals working on systems and equipment containing fluorinated greenhouse gases regulated by the EU must be qualified. There are different qualifications for stationary refrigeration and air conditioning (SRAC systems), including heat pump systems; stationary fire protection systems; mobile air conditioning systems; electrical switchgear; solvent recovery. Businesses that work on third party systems or equipment, must ensure that their engineers have personal qualification and must also have a company F-gas certificate. Sole traders must also have a personal qualification and a company F-gas certificate. See also: Gluckman Consulting, , (accessed 18 February 2018), for fact sheets on training and qualifications for different sectors.
108 Q84 Graeme Fox (REFCOM).
109 As above.
110 RFG0007 (Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board). This will include the move from the widely used refrigerant R4108 (GWP 2088) to R32 (GWP 675).
111 RFG0009 (Defra).
112 Q238 to Q241 Davinder Lail (Defra).
113 Defra, , (accessed 17 February 2018). This will include any aerosol with a GWP greater than 150 but will exclude if the HFCs used are required to meet national safety standards or for medical applications.
114 Q223 and Q232 to 238 Liz Parkes (Environment Agency).
Published: 25 April 2018