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Article European Union: New Rules to Reduce Fluorinated Gases and Ozone-Depleting Substance Emissions Adopted

On February 20, 2024, Regulation (EU) 2024/573 on fluorinated greenhouse gases, amending Directive (EU) 2019/1937 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 and Regulation (EU) 2024/590 on substances that deplete the ozone layer, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1005/2009 were published in the European Union’s (EU’s) Official Journal. The two regulations, which aim to reduce fluorinated gases (F-gases) and ozone-depleting substance (ODS) emissions, are part of the European Green Deal to reach climate neutrality by 2050. They entered into force on March 11, 20 days after their publication.

An EU regulation is a legal act that has general application. It is binding and directly applicable in the EU member states. (Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), art. 288, para. 2.)

Background to the Regulations

F-gases, such as hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and nitrogen trifluoride, are used in household appliances like refrigerators, air-conditioning, and heat pumps. ODS is an essential component of ordinary tools as well. To mention but a few, halon is an ODS used in fire extinguishers, methyl bromide is employed in controling pests, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons are used in refrigerators and air-conditioning systems. F-gases and ODS have high global warming potential and are estimated to represent over 3% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The regulations approved by the co-legislators are considered an essential step in reducing emissions from these gases and achieving the ambitious EU 2030 climate goals and climate neutrality by 2050.

Regulation (EU) 2024/573

Regulation (EU) 2024/573 introduces strict rules to decrease the production and consumption of F-gases, particularly hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), in line with the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Kigali Amendment to the Protocol. (Regulation (EU) 2024/573, recitals 5, 6.)

The regulation prohibits any form of intentional release of F-gases into the atmosphere where the release is not technically necessary for the intended use. If an intentional release is technically necessary, operators of equipment that contains F-gases or of facilities where these gases are used must take all necessary and feasible measures to prevent the release, including by recapturing the gases released. (Art. 4, para. 1.)

The law mandates specific technical requirements for the monitoring, detection, and documentation of potential leaks involving F-gases. (Arts. 5, 6, 7.) For instance, it requires operators and manufacturers of equipment containing these gases to conduct regular leak checks and maintain detailed records for each piece of equipment. These records must include comprehensive information, such as the quantity and type of gases contained in the equipment, any gas additions made during maintenance or servicing, the date of such additions, the quantities of recovered gases, the dates and outcomes of leak repairs, and the measures taken for gas recovery and disposal if the equipment is decommissioned. (Art. 7, para. 1.)

Furthermore, Regulation (EU) 2024/573 prohibits placing products containing F-gases on the EU market. (Art. 11, para. 1.) It sets phaseout dates for using F-gases in sectors where it is technologically and economically feasible to switch to alternatives that do not use these gases, such as domestic refrigeration, air conditioning, and heat pumps. (Annex IV.)

The law identifies some exceptions to the general prohibition of sale. Article 12 specifies that products and equipment that contain F-gases or whose functioning relies upon those gases can be placed on the market, subsequently supplied, or made available to the public on the condition that they be labeled as specific types of products. Such products are (a) refrigeration equipment; (b) air-conditioning equipment; (c) heat pumps; (d) fire protection equipment; (e) electrical switchgear; (f) aerosol dispensers that contain fluorinated greenhouse gases, including metered dose inhalers; (g) all fluorinated greenhouse gas containers; (h) fluorinated greenhouse gas-based solvents; or (i) organic Rankine cycles. (Art. 12, para. 1.)

The regulation foresees a total phaseout of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by 2050, setting out progressively decreasing maximum amounts of hydrofluorocarbons allowed to be placed on the EU market between 2025 and 2050. (Annex VII.)

Early commentators observed that these rules are meant to send a strong message to manufacturers of products that typically rely on F-gases, encouraging them to direct their investments toward environmentally friendly alternatives whenever possible. This move is anticipated to drive innovation and foster the advancement of clean technologies. As the market for eco-friendly equipment grows, prices are expected to decrease, and the enhanced energy efficiency of the new equipment will result in significant energy savings throughout its lifespan.

Regulation (EU) 2024/590

Regulation (EU) 2024/590 regulates the use and release of ozone-depleting substances to substantially reduce the related emissions in the atmosphere. The regulation’s recitals state that, following the implementation of international agreements such as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, a decrease in the atmospheric burden of ozone-depleting substances has been recorded over the years. However, most recent assessments showed that this ozone layer recovery is still fragile and, consequently, UV radiation persists as a significant threat to health and the environment. Hence, a strengthened regulation was considered necessary. (Regulation (EU) 2024/590, recital 5.)

The law prohibits any activity involving the production, selling, and distribution of ODS and products and equipment containing ODS or whose functioning relies upon those substances. (Arts. 4, 5.) However, a few exceptions are identified. The regulation specifies that ODS may be produced, placed on the market, and subsequently supplied or distributed for use as feedstock, for use as process agents, or for essential laboratory and analytical uses. (Arts. 6, 7, 8.) ODS and products and equipment containing those substances may also be used for destruction and reclamation. (Art. 12.)

Other exceptions relate to particular types of substances. For instance, it is stated that halons may be placed on the market and used for critical uses, such as for the protection of engine compartments in military ground vehicles. (Art. 9; annex V.)

The regulation also requires recovering and recycling ODS contained in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment heat pumps and fire extinguishers during the maintenance or servicing of equipment or before its dismantling or disposal. (Art. 20, para. 1.) The law also requires recovering and recycling ODS in building materials during renovations, such as ODS contained in insulation foams. (Art. 20, para. 2.)

Prepared by Sarah Bandini, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Jenny Gesley, Foreign Law Specialist

March 27, 2024

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