Precautionary principle favours natural refrigerants, MEP tells ATMOsphere Europe 2011 participants

Precautionary principle favours natural refrigerants, MEP tells ATMOsphere Europe 2011 participants

The precautionary principle favours natural refrigerants because they have been around for a very long time. This was part of the concluding remarks of a dinner speech at ATMOsphere Europe 2011 by Theodoros Skylakakis, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and author of a recently adopted Motion for a Resolution calling the EU to step up action on addressing HFC and other non-CO2 emissions.

First day presentations at ATMOsphere Europe 2011 – the interactive workshop and conference on natural refrigerants – covered market trends, technology case studies and from the policy side the current EU F-Gas Regulation and its imminent revision, as well as experiences and lessons to be learnt from Member States with more stringent f-gas policies.

Internalising environmental cost and applying the precautionary principle

A dinner speech on 11 October 2011 to 160 event participants by Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Theodoros Skylakakis concluded the first day by highlighting that currently in Europe there is no policy in place that internalises the environmental cost of refrigerants, and that a level playing field is lacking that would allow for a fair evaluation of natural refrigerants and HFCs. “I don’t care what kind of refrigerants we use as long as we have managed to internalise their environmental cost. However, this is not the case between HFCs and natural refrigerants. We don’t yet have a policy in Europe that treats fairly natural refrigerants and the situation is even worse if one looks at the international scene”, stated the MEP.

Other aspects necessitating consideration by policy makers include the innovation curve and most notably the precautionary principle, which both favour natural refrigerants. “[On] the innovation curve… we know that these products have not yet climbed to the most advantageous part of the curve, due to unfair competition – if we calculate the environmental cost – from HFCs and other environmentally harmful refrigerants. The precautionary principle favours them because natural refrigerants have been around for a very long time and they don’t carry the danger of an outlier event, which is not the case for new untested chemicals”.

Non-CO2 greenhouse gases moving up the EU agenda

The dinner speech gave a clear signal that greenhouse gases other than CO2 are moving up the EU political agenda. And this is not only within the sphere of the European Commission, which recently published a report recognising the shortcomings of its current F-Gas Regulation and the need for further action that will facilitate a transition to HFC-free solutions, but also within the European Parliament that is now putting increasing pressure on the EU executive to draw up legislative measures that will allow the EU to decrease HFC emissions in the long term rather than merely stabilise these at today’s levels.

“It was not a mistake to start with CO2 and to focus the European and international policies primarily on long term reduction in CO2 emissions […]”, Skylakakis noted. “However, we now need a comprehensive European climate policy which can benefit from considering all sources of warming and all mitigation options; so in addition to considering CO2 emission reductions, we should place emphasis on strategies that can produce the fastest climate response”. Fast-action regulatory strategies to phase down production and consumption of HFCs can begin within 2-3 years and be substantially implemented within 5–10 years, producing the desired climate response within decades or sooner, at a public price much lower than the EU ETS carbon price.”

The recently adopted motion for a resolution on non-CO2 emissions

In mid September, the European Parliament adopted with a great majority a motion for a resolution on “A comprehensive approach to non-CO2 climate-relevant anthropogenic emissions”, which notes that:

  • domestic action on fluorinated gases in the shape of the F-Gas Regulation has fallen far short of expectations and that failure to address its shortcomings will weaken considerably the EU’s UNFCCC negotiating position;
  • the Commission must come forward with a revision of F-gas regulations …
  • the European Union must strongly support action on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol as a prime example of a non-market-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions at COP-17 in Durban;

“An environmentalist with a calculator”, Mr Skylakakis is one of the two authors of the motion for a resolution. He first got interested in non-CO2 emissions after finding out that European consumers have already paid through the Clean Development Mechanism €1.5bn to destroy HFC-23 at 70 times the actual cost, thus creating huge windfall profits for a handful of companies.

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