Production and imports of fluorinated greenhouse gases fall in the EU

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Source: European Commission, Environment DG

Production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) decreased by 5% within the EU in 2011, compared with 2010, when measured in absolute, metric tonnes, according to a recent report from the European Environment Agency (EEA). Imports and sales of these powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs) also fell, by 6% and 12% respectively, but exports rose by 5%. 

The fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) HFCs, PFCs and SF6 are used in a range of equipment as substitutes for chemicals that cause depletion of the ozone layer, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), and halons. These ozone depleting substances are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.

Although F-gases are not ozone-depleting, they are potent GHGs that contributed 2% of the EU’s total GHG emissions in 2010, measured in terms of CO2-equivalent. Their contribution to climate change has been steadily growing since 1990.  HFCs, PFCs and SF6 are regulated under the Kyoto Protocol and in the EU, F-Gas emissions (except those from air conditioning in motor vehicles) are controlled by the F-Gas Regulation (EC) No 842/2006, which requires companies to reduce F-gas leaks, recover gases at the end of equipments’ lifetime, and seek environmentally-friendly, cost-effective alternatives.

The report analysed data for 2011 from a total of 120 companies that produce, import or export more than 1 tonne of F-gases a year in the EU. These data are reported to the European Commission and other relevant bodies under the F-Gas Regulation. 

The figures indicated that production, imports and sales within the EU, in metric tonnes, decreased by 5%, 6% and 12% respectively, and exports increased by 5% over 2010 figures. In particular, HFC sales decreased sharply, by 13%.

The gases were also assessed in terms of their global warming potential (GWP). GWP compares the warming effect on the atmosphere of a GHG with a similar mass of CO2, and is measured in metric tonnes of CO2-equivalent. When expressed in this way, data reveal that total exports rose by 12% and production increased by 1%, compared with 2010 figures. However, imports decreased by 8% and sales decreased by 11%. Sales of HFCs specifically decreased by 17%, when measured in CO2-equivalents.  EU sales, as well as exports of SF6, increased by 17% and 16% respectively.

The contrasting results between the results for absolute quantities of the gases and the results for the CO2-equivalent quantities is because there are large differences in GWP values of certain F-gases. For example, although the production, imports, exports and sales of SF6contributed a small share to the F-gas figures in 2011, when measured in metric tonnes, the high GWP of SF6 means that it contributed to more than 40% of production, more than 50% of exports and more than 20% of sales, when expressed in CO2-equivalents. SF6 is mainly used as an insulation gas in electrical transformers and switchgear.

In 2011, HFCs contributed the greatest share to the production and trade of the F-gases. The main use for F-gases, primarily HFCs, was in refrigeration and air conditioning. HFCs were also significantly used in the foam and aerosol sectors.

Cutting ‘non-CO2 emissions’ by 70-78% by 2050 will contribute to the EU’s commitment to reducing GHG emissions by 80-95% (of pre-1990 levels) by 2050. To help achieve these targets, the European Commission proposes to review and strengthen the current F-Gas regulations.

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