Hydrofluorocarbon phase-down in Europe

After increasing for 13 years, fluorinated greenhouse gas (F-gas) emissions decreased for the first time between 2014 and 2015 in the EU, and decreased by about 5% in 2019. This can be partly attributed to the EU-wide hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) phase-down set out in the F-gas Regulation, which aims to reduce F-gas emissions and mitigate global warming. HFCs account for the majority of F-gas emissions and the EU is on track to meet targets and phase down HFC use by 2030. It is also on track to meet its international obligation to reduce HFC consumption, in effect since 2019, under the Montreal Protocol.

Published: ‒ 25min read

Fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) — which include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) — contribute to global warming. These gases are used in a range of applications, but the refrigeration, air conditioning and heating sector account for the majority of F-gas use in the EU. Between 1990 and 2014, emissions of F-gases in the EU increased by around 70% overall and accounted for about 3% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This increase was largely because of the substitution of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) with HFCs in the refrigeration and air conditioning sector and the growth of this sector as a whole. The F-gas Regulation aims to reduce F-gas emissions by two thirds of 2010 levels by 2030, by improving the leak-tightness of equipment, promoting the use of more environmentally friendly alternatives to F-gases and capping sales of HFCs on the EU market through an HFC phase-down.

The EU-wide HFC phase-down is, in particular, expected to result in large reductions in F-gas use and emissions, as HFCs account for the vast majority of F-gas emissions (around 90% in 2019). To place bulk HFC gases on the market, companies must hold sufficient quotas, which are expressed in tonnes of CO2 equivalents to create an incentive to use gases with lower global warming potential. The quantity of HFCs placed on the market in the EU was particularly high in 2014 before the phase-down began, but since then has declined markedly, and was below the maximum quantity set by the F-gas Regulation in 2015 and in each year since. Since 2017, HFCs in refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump equipment have also been covered by legally binding HFC phase-down quotas. Quotas are set to progressively decrease and the EU is on track to meet its targets and successfully phase down HFC use by 2030.

Additional efforts have been undertaken at EU and Member State levels to reduce HFC leakage from refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, encourage the recovery of gases at the end of equipment lifetime, promote the use of non-HFC refrigerants and ban the use of HFCs for certain applications. Along with those efforts, the HFC phase-down process has, after 13 years of increases, had an impact on F-gas emissions, which have been decreasing since 2015 by about 1-4% per year, and which decreased by about 5% in 2019.

At international level, HFC consumption is regulated under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. In accordance with the 2016 amendment, which came into effect in 2019, developed and developing countries have committed to an HFC phase-down by meeting progressively decreasing HFC consumption targets so that their HFC consumption levels are 15% of 2019 levels by 2036. The EU is well on track to comply with its obligations under the Montreal Protocol: by 2019, the EU’s HFC consumption was 43% below its initial target for that year. In 2020, even though there was a slight increase in HFC consumption (+6.8%), it was still 52 % below the Montreal Protocol target.

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