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EIA: HFCs phase-out a matter of urgency

The Environmental Investigation Agency has called for the early phase-out of HFCs in defiance of industry efforts to prolong use of the refrigerant.

RAC magazine and UK industry leaders have recently launched a campaign calling for Governments to rethink stricter controls and give the F-gas containment strategy a chance.

However, the EIA said the campaign is misguided, and called a phase out of HFCs essential as an example to the developing world.

EIA global environment campaign co-ordinator Fionnuala Walravens said: “We understand our view is not shared by everyone but we have come to our position based on unbiased objective research.

“Although it poses significant challenges, a clear phase out schedule offers a strong degree of certainty and enables future planning which is essential to any business.

“As with previous ODS phase outs it would involve a gradual reduction in HFC usage and will not mean that HFCs are banned overnight.”

Miss Walravens insisted that if the HFC phase out is successfully opposed by industry then it was unclear how Europe could proceed to deeper emission reduction targets.

HFC proponents argue that the refrigerant is more efficient than alternatives and containment regimes will restrict its global warming potential.

Rejecting this argument, the EIA added that energy efficiency is more influenced by design of equipment rather than the refrigerant used.

“The containment model may be attractive but the reality is that it doesn’t work,” said Miss Walravens.

“It has been known for a long time that chlorinated and fluorinated refrigerant gases are environmentally damaging when allowed to escape to atmosphere.

“Leakage reduction initiatives predate the Montreal Protocol but global leakage remains unchanged. If containment had worked then CFCs and HCFCs would not have been phased out.

“It’s important to look at the actions of the UK RAC industry in terms of its role in global development.

“What’s really at stake here is the transition being made in developing countries.

“They have an opportunity to leapfrog HFC technologies. It’s imperative that Europe embraces low-GWP technologies, how can we ask them to go green if we refuse ourselves?”

F-gas champion, Graeme Fox of the European contractors’ association AREA insisted the EIA had “spectacularly missed the point”.

“For a section of the industry's products, alternatives do not exist at the moment - HFCs must remain available in order for the medium range systems to remain fully operational at their optimum efficiency,” he said.

“I did try to arrange a meeting with Miss Walravens to discuss the issues but she refused my invitation.”

Mr Fox also questioned the objectivity of the EIA pointing out that Nicholas Cox, who collaborated with the EIA on its Chilling Facts report, works for a natural refrigerants supplier, Earthcare Products.

Mr Fox also argued that containment has yet to be given a chance.

“The F-gas regulation only came into being last July, was only implemented by our Government during the past few weeks and is still awaiting the full Government policing scheme to be advised to industry.

“How can Miss Walravens measure the effectiveness of a Regulation that doesn't fully exist yet?

“The closest example is the Dutch STEK scheme which had a hugely successful effect on emissions.

“The EIA’s problem is its failure to distinguish between HFCs released by the automotive industry and that of our industry.

“When you read its many reports it clearly acknowledges the fact that car air conditioning is responsible for the vast majority of HFCs in the atmosphere, but it does not suit the EIA’s political purpose so it ignores this and implies the RAC sector is failing the environment.”

The EIA has denied that Mr Fox invited it for a meeting to discuss the issue.