Negotiators from the Council of the EU and the European Parliament on October 5 reached a provisional political agreement on phasing down substances that cause global warming and deplete the ozone layer, putting into place the final pieces of the revised EU F-gas Regulation and setting the stage for the elimination of f-gases in the EU by 2050.

This provisional agreement, with legal text available in a “couple of weeks,” according to a source at the Council, finalizes negotiations on f-gases and confirms an informal agreement reached in June on ozone-depleting substances (ODS).

The agreement will now be submitted to the member states representatives within the Council and to the Parliament’s Environment Committee for endorsement. If approved, the text will then need to be formally adopted by both institutions before it can be published in the EU’s Official Journal and enter into force.

The agreement follows f-gas proposals by the European Commission on April 5, 2022, and by the Parliament on March 30, 2023, as well as an agreement on a general approach by the Council on April 5, 2023. Since April, the three bodies have engaged in rounds of negotiations – called a trilogue – to finalize the revised EU F-gas Regulation.

“The agreement introduces new restrictions to make sure that f-gases are only used in new equipment where no suitable alternatives are available or that only the most climate-friendly f-gases are used,” said the Commission. The new restrictions will apply from 2025 to 2035 depending on the readiness to shift to climate-friendly solutions for each type of equipment.

It should further speed the transition to natural refrigerants like CO2 (R744), hydrocarbons and ammonia (R717) in refrigeration, heat pumps and air conditioners, which have all gained world-leading adoption in the EU since the introduction of the F-gas Regulation in 2006 and its revision in 2014. “The regulation provides incentives to use climate-friendly alternatives, further stimulating the global market and helping other countries to make the transition as well,” said the Commission, adding that it raises ambition “considerably beyond the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol.”

Rapid growth and innovation in f-gas-free natural refrigerant technologies has “opened the door for new bans on domestic heat pumps and some air-conditioners using HFCs with global warming potentials (GWP) of 150 or more from 2027 and 2029,” noted the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an NGO that has sought reductions in f-gas emissions for more than two decades.

In addition, said the EIA, all f-gases will be banned in these subsectors from 2032 and 2035, “heralding an end to the use of hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) in these sectors”  HFOs have been increasingly associated with adverse environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions via industrial production processes and per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) emissions, noted the EIA.

The legislation will also improve enforcement and implementation, “making it easier for customs and surveillance authorities to control imports and exports, and to crack down on the illegal trade of gases and related equipment,” said the Commission.

While existing EU legislation has already limited the use of f-gases significantly, the agreement will prevent almost 500 million metric tons of further emissions by 2050, according to the Commission, which added, “It will contribute to the EU’s 2030 climate targets of at least 55% emission reductions, and help make Europe climate-neutral by 2050.”

“The sensible choice”

The agreement received a positive reaction from the EIA. “Despite the efforts of a well-funded F-gas industry lobby seeking to prolong unnecessary use of climate-harming HFCs, regulators have made the sensible choice, one which will allow European manufacturing to flourish,” said U.K. Climate Team Lead Clare Perry.

“The bans enable Europe to meet renewable heating targets without undue uptake of climate-wrecking refrigerants,” EIA U.K. Senior Climate Campaigner Fionnuala Walravens added. “For the first time, Europe has taken account of the environmental impacts of HFCs and HFOs. The staggered bans provide much-needed certainty for equipment manufacturers and avoid the build-up of persistent PFAS in our environment.”

The EIA added that to overcome one of the core barriers to the uptake of HFC alternatives, and in recognition of the need to support the rollout of heat pumps under RePowerEU, the agreement introduces certification schemes covering the safe handling of natural refrigerants.

However, the EIA added, the revision failed to include ambitious limits for sales of new stationary refrigeration equipment containing HFCs, despite widespread availability of cost-effective natural refrigerant-based alternatives already being manufactured in the EU.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) was also enthusiastic about the agreement.  “Today’s win is a triple win,”  Davide Sabbadin, Deputy Policy Manager for Climate at the EEB, said. “Firstly it is a win for the climate, due to f-gases’ significant contribution towards greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. It is also a win for our health and environment, as f-gases are the primary source of dangerous PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ emissions in Europe. Finally, this is a win for Europe’s green industry, which is home to the production of climate-friendly alternatives to f-gases: natural refrigerants.“

On the other hand, the European Partnership for Energy and the Environment (EPEE), representing the refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump (RACHP) manufacturing industry in Europe, expressed its “disappointment” at the agreement. “We believe this agreement will be challenging for the sector to implement given certain unclear provisions linked to the bans,” said Russell Patten, Director General of EPEE. The group argues that the agreement will “work against the wider contributions f-gases make to decarbonization.”

Highlights of the agreement

Highlights of the provisional agreement relating to f-gases include the following:

  • The most commonly used f-gases, representing around 90% of f-gas emissions, will be reduced by 95% by 2030 compared to 2015, going down to zero by 2050, the world’s first total HFC phase out. The production of HFCs, in terms of production rights allocated by the Commission, will be phased down to a minimum (15%) as of 2036. Both production and consumption will be phased down based on a “tight schedule of decreasing quota allocation,” the Council said. The agreement introduces a higher quota allocation for the first two periods compared to the Commission proposal. The feasibility of the phase out of the consumption of HFCs and the need for HFCs in sectors where they are still used will be reviewed in 2040, taking into account technological developments and the availability of alternatives to HFCs for the relevant applications.
  • A full market ban will be placed on several categories of products and equipment containing HFCs, including certain domestic refrigerators, chillers, foams and aerosols. It brings forward some deadlines for the ban and extends it to products that use f-gases with a lesser GWP. Exemptions from the ban are provided if there are safety concerns.
  • A full ban is introduced on small (less than12kW/3.4TR) monobloc heat pumps and air conditioningthat contain f-gases with a GWP of at least 150 starting in 2027, and a complete phase out in 2032. With regard to split air conditioning and heat pumps containing f-gases, the co-legislators agreed on a full ban starting in 2035, with earlier deadlines for certain types of split systems with higher GWP gases. Exemptions are provided for in cases where this equipment is needed to meet safety requirements. The agreement also includes the possibility to release a limited number of additional quotas for heat pumps if the proposed bans were to endanger the attainment of the heat pump deployment target required under REPowerEU.
  • A ban is introduced on some equipment needed to repair and service existing equipment. From 2025, servicing equipment for refrigeration equipment that uses f-gases with high global warming potential will be banned unless the gases are reclaimed or recycled, in which case they benefit from an exemption until 2030. A similar ban is introduced for servicing equipment for air conditioning and heat pump equipment for 2026, with an exemption for reclaimed or recycled gases until 2032. A servicing ban on stationary refrigeration equipment designed to cool products to temperatures below -50°C (-58°F) using f-gases with lower GWP will be applied in 2032, with a permanent exemption where recycled or reclaimed gases are used.
  • Starting in 2025, the HFC quota that the Commission allocates every year will be sold for €3 (US$3.17) per metric ton of CO2e, adjustable for inflation. Part of the revenue will be used to cover the administrative costs of the implementation of the F-gas Regulation, and the rest will go to the general EU budget.
  • A new full ban is applied to medium voltage switchgears relying on f-gases, with a gradual phase out by 2030, and a ban on high voltage switchgears by 2032. It introduces a “cascading principle” that allows for potential exemptions from the bans depending on the bidding process for f-gas-free alternatives. It includes a possibility for high voltage switchgear to use the very potent greenhouse gas SF6 as a last resort under the cascading principle and adds a number of safeguards to avoid the bans endangering the functioning of the electrical grids.
  • Member EU states will set rules on effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties applicable to infringements. The penalties should at least includes fines, confiscation of products, temporary exclusion of products from public procurement and temporary trade bans. They should be compatible with the EU Environmental Crime Directive and with national legal systems.
  • ODS are prohibited in almost all cases, with only strictly limited exemptions. The text includes an exemption for the use of ODS as feedstock to produce other substances. The Commission will be tasked with regularly updating a list of ODS for which use as feedstock is banned. An assessment of the availability of alternatives for feedstock is to be primarily done at international level, under the Montreal Protocol. However, as a safeguard, if the international expert panel fails to do so within a certain timeframe, the Commission will make an assessment of viable alternatives.
  • The requirement to recover ODS for destruction, recycling or reclamation is extended to more than in the Commission proposal. The requirement will cover refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump equipment, equipment containing solvents, fire protection systems, fire extinguishers and other equipment if technically and economically feasible.
  • All ODS will be covered by the requirement to take precautions to prevent and minimize the unintentional release of ODS and to ensure that any leakage detected is repaired without undue delay.

“The regulation provides incentives to use climate-friendly alternatives, further stimulating the global market and helping other countries to make the transition as well.”

The European Commission