The European Union is aiming for a 25 per cent reduction in EU emissions of three greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto protocol.

The European Union is aiming for a 25 per cent reduction in EU emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), by 2010. These represent three of the six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto protocol.

European Parliament and EU environment ministers are currently settling final details of legislation to be enacted early in 2006. 

One outstanding issue is whether Austria and Denmark can maintain current national restrictions some of which are more demanding than those in the EU draft which was approved in a second reading vote by the Parliament on October 26.

Environmental campaigners voiced dismay that MEPs rejected recommendations from the Parliament’s environment committee for outright prohibition by 2010 on use of fluorinated gases in production of foams and on HFCs in domestic and commercial refrigerators and static air-conditioning systems.

Greenpeace blamed ’relentless’ lobbying by the chemical companies. Industry group the European Fluorocarbons Technical Committee said the vote was ’good news’ indicating that ’the global benefits of HFCs, including their positive impact on the environment, have been taken into account’, according to EFTC chairman Nick Campbell.
Some substances covered by the legislation have been adopted by industry since the 1990s as substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) banned under the Montreal Protocol.

While accounting for only two per cent of EU greenhouse gas emissions, fluorinated gases have a substantial global warming potential (GWP). The GWP of SF6 is 23 900 times that of CO2.

The new rules will focus on containment rather than prohibition, seeking to prevent emissions due to leakages from large `static installations’ containing more than 300kg of regulated gases - such as fire suppression systems in buildings, or industrial-scale refrigerators - and introducing mandatory registration of such installations, mandatory fitting of leakage detection equipment, and regular monitoring by qualified personnel.

Environment commissioner Stavros Dimas told MEPs that the legislation represented ’an important part of the EU strategy on climate change’ and would help the EU meet Kyoto obligations to reduce European greenhouse emissions by eight per cent from 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012.

Dimas estimates that the legislation could reduce annual emissions of fluorinated gases by the equivalent of 23 million tonnes of CO2 by 2010, rising to 40 million tonnes a year by 2020. Arthur Rogers