• World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva.
    World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva.

Refrigerants Australia has expressed concerns about the European F-gas revisions formally raising a number of critical issues with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Following is an open letter – entitled What the F is going on? - submitted by Refrigerants Australia executive director, Greg Picker.

Refrigerants Australia executive director, Greg Picker.
Refrigerants Australia executive director, Greg Picker.

Open letter

Refrigerants Australia has lodged questions through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) raising issues about aspects of the European F-gas revision proposals.

The WTO process is part of the international architecture designed to ensure that technical regulations do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade.  The WTO strongly encourages countries to base their measures on international standards to facilitate trade.

As a result of questions raised around previous iterations of the European Union’s F-Gas regulations, the WTO made significant amendments to the legislation.

Refrigerants Australia noted that the concept of technological neutrality – which is a basis for the Montreal Protocol - guarantees freedom of choice by not forcing users into using any specific technology.

Refrigerants Australia contends that domestic legislation, like F-Gas - should define the objectives to be achieved and should neither impose, nor discriminate, in favour of the use of a particular type of technology to achieve those objectives. Our concern is that the F-Gas regulations were not developed on this basis.

More specifically, the F-Gas legislation proposed to – from 2050 – impose a ban on HFOs and blends with HFOs, even those with very low GWPs.

The F-Gas legislation was made to meet the requirements of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, but the Kigali Amendment does not include HFOs.

While the European Union is considering potential restrictions on these substances given a possible link with PFAS, according to a briefing provided by European Commission officials in Nairobi at the recent Montreal Protocol meeting, any restrictions on HFOs due to PFAS will be implemented under the REACH program and not the F-Gas regulations.

Given that the F-Gas regulations are focused on the GWP of refrigerants and HFOs are among the lowest GWP solutions available, Refrigerants Australia asked for an explanation about the thinking underpinning this component of the F-Gas legislation.

Refrigerants Australia also noted that the F-Gas legislation seems to be based on the presumption that non fluorinated substances – particularly hydrocarbons (with GWP values similar to, but higher than many, HFOs) - can be used in all air conditioners.

These refrigerants, however, potentially have significant risks to the trade and users because of their flammability and explosive properties.

Has the European Union conducted a comprehensive impact/risk assessment subject to independent review and industry consultation?

If this has been undertaken, this information would usefully be shared with industry globally, but if such an assessment has yet to be completed Refrigerants Australia urges the European Union to undertake this vital assessment and consider its results prior to strict GWP limits on equipment coming into place.

Finally, the Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment included the implicit understanding between governments and industry that HFCs would be managed in a similar way to ozone depleting substances – certainty of long-term transition away from high ODS and now high GWP substances in exchange for an approach that minimised industrial disruption.

Noting the very strict and imminent GWP limits on equipment types, Refrigerants Australia has asked for an explanation regarding the decision-making to reject these principles.

It is these principles which made the Montreal Protocol the most successful environmental treaty in history.

Global support

Refrigerants Australia was not alone in asking questions through the WTO process about the F-Gas legislation.  Questions were also provided from Japan, Korea, China and the United States.

Answers from the European Union to all of these questions are expected during the first six months of 2024.