This week, EIA’s F-Gas team hosted a debate in the European Parliament to discuss the forthcoming revision of the F-Gas Regulation.
Despite having worked as a campaigner with EIA for more than 12 years, I’ve always managed to avoid organising these kinds of events. It’s not that I don’t see the value of them, but they are a huge amount of work building up to something that lasts just a couple of hours, and right up to the event you have no idea how they will go.
After a few frantic weeks (and I fully admit that the lion’s share of the organising was done by others in the EIA team), I travelled to Brussels in some trepidation; how many people would make the effort to come on a Monday evening?; had we ordered enough food and drink?; would they ever find the room in the rabbit warren of the European Parliament?
Surprisingly – or perhaps not, given the importance of the issue – Monday’s event was an enormous success, with more than 70 people turning up representing a wide range of interests, from MEPs, government representatives and members of the European Commission to industry stakeholders (from both pro- and anti-HFC perspectives, and somewhere in the middle) and other NGOs.
And while a number of different views were expressed by the speakers and audience, all were agreed that something had to be done to further reduce hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions by strengthening the current Regulation.
While perhaps not quite the “high-level summit” as described by RAC Magazine, it did bring all the relevant people together to sit down and chat about the expectations and concerns they had, both formally in the debate and afterwards with a glass of wine and some rather dubious nibbles (sponge fingers & olives?!).
One of the most difficult aspects of the HFC campaign is communicating its importance to decision-makers and the wider public. Granted, a report on the finer details of refrigeration technologies and the capabilities of natural refrigerants to replace R404a and R410a are, for most people, probably the best cure around for insomnia. But let’s face it, these technologies impact all of us on a day-to-day basis – from refrigerated food and chilled drinks to the air-con in your car or office, most of these are currently being cooled using HFCs, greenhouse gases that leak from the equipment in which they’re used and so help warm up the planet.
The growing use of these gases has the potential to push our climate system over the edge. We’re already dangerously close to so-called tipping points, thresholds which once crossed cannot be reversed. Business-as-usual predictions for HFC emissions see them rising to around 20 per cent of global CO2-equivalent emissions by 2050. That’s crazy, considering there are climate-friendly alternatives.
Even the F-gas industry, the producer of these damaging chemicals, is publicly admitting that it needs to be ‘phased down’. What this phase-down actually means remains to be seen but, based on the history of these multi-billion dollar multinationals and their successful efforts to maximise business opportunities from appearing to be green, we’re assuming that it will be more ‘phase’ and less ‘down’.
In a few weeks we expect a draft Regulation from the European Commission, signalling the start of a long battle in the corridors of the Parliament and across the 27 Member States to try to achieve strong legislation to control and eventually eliminate HFCs. So expect to see more of these events from us – but we might have to reconsider the sponge fingers.