Illegal trade of ODS and HFCs


The illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances and greenhouse gases used in refrigeration remains a significant obstacle to international efforts seeking to limit the worst impacts of climate change. We have almost 30 years of experience investigating and exposing this criminal trade and, with a steady increase in hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) smuggling in Europe as a result of an EU phase-down of these chemicals, we will continue monitoring and investigating this illegal trade, pushing for strengthened enforcement, working for better engagement in the issue from customs and campaigning for an effective licensing system for HFCs.

The problem

While the Montreal Protocol has been lauded as the most successful environmental treaty, illicit trade in ozone-depleting substances (ODS) which emerged in the mid-1990s remains a challenge.

Smuggling of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), particularly for the refrigerant market, began following the first wave of CFC phase-outs, rapidly growing to a volume of 38,000 tonnes a year at its peak and continuing to this day.

Low risks and high profits make the illegal refrigerant trade attractive to  criminal networks. Yet it is often not a priority for enforcement agencies and penalties are usually minor for a crime that costs governments and legitimate businesses millions in lost revenues and results in significant emissions of ozone-destroying and greenhouse gases.

The difference we’ve made

EIA has almost three decades of experience in shining a spot light on the illegal trade in refrigerant gases and remains the only NGO working on this issue. We share our research and investigation findings with enforcement agencies, governments, industry and international bodies to strengthen legislation and curb ODS smuggling.

Our first major investigation occurred in the late 1990s when we exposed the illegal trade of CFCs in Europe and the US. Subsequent investigations have taken place in India, Indonesia, Singapore and China.

Our exposés have helped increase awareness of illegal trade among Parties to the Montreal Protocol and our advocacy pushed forward the adoption of ODS licensing systems, which have increased communication across borders and helped reduce the illegal trade.

We have supported improved enforcement through participation in a host of training workshops for customs officers, production of a training film to aid the identification of illicit ODS and provision of actionable intelligence to government agencies.

In 2018, EIA’s exposure of the widespread illegal production and use of CFC-11 in China, despite a global phase-out since 2010, brought the issue of illegal trade back into the spot light.

Illegal trade of ODS and HFCs

F-gas-LPG analyzer used by customs © PROZON Fundacja Ochrony Klimatu

Moving forward

In addition to ongoing illegal trade in ODS we are now seeing a spike in hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) smuggling in Europe as a result of an EU wide phase-down of these chemicals. HFCs do not destroy the ozone layer but are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The EU F-Gas Regulation aims to cut HFC use by 79 per cent by 2030. Since 2017, HFC prices have surged  in Europe, alongside supply cuts.  Poor enforcement and regulatory loopholes have fuelled significant levels of illegal trade, in particular along the porous eastern and southern EU borders.

EIA will continue to monitor, investigate and expose the illegal trade in HFCs, advocating strengthened enforcement, improved customs engagement and an effective HFC licensing system.

At the same time, EIA will be working to strengthen the enforcement and compliance regime of the Montreal Protocol. The recent discovery of ongoing large-scale production and use of CFC-11 has brought to light the need to re-examine the policies and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to ensure its compliance and enforcement regime is fit-for-purpose. This is particularly urgent given the entry into force of the Kigali Amendment in 2019, and the new challenges this brings as a global phase-down of HFCs begins.

How you can help

As the only organisation doing this kind of much needed work your donations will support our efforts to fight illegal trade in refrigerants and raise this issue up the political agenda, securing concrete changes to current regulatory and enforcement regimes.

Header image © PROZON Fundacja Ochrony Klimatu