The European Commission still insists that the illegal trade in HFCs within Europe is in small quantities, despite evidence to the contrary.
Speaking at last week’s refrigeration and air conditioning technology conference in Milan, Niccolò Costantini, policy officer of the climate change section of the EC, outlined a number of measures that the Commission was taking to tackle the “modest” illegal trade.
He maintained that it was unlikely that trade in bottles and small refillable containers by private people would jeopardise the overall environmental goals. He also insisted that there was no concrete evidence of a large-scale illegal trade and no evidence of isocontainers entering the EU illegally.
This flew in the face of evidence presented later by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), which suggested that, based on Chinese trade figures alone, the illegal trade in HFCs was widespread and amounted to more than 16% of the 2018 quota. Similar studies by the refrigerant manufacturers have put the figure at 20%.
Addressing the international audience, EIA campaigner Fionnuala Walravens said its recent study into the problem – Doors Wide Open – confirmed that HFCs appear to be coming into Europe from China directly and via EU-border countries, in particular via Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Albania.
Many EU countries are said to be struggling under the tide of illegal material, with reports that illegal refrigerants constituted 50-80% of the Greek, Bulgarian and Romanian markets.
EPEE director general Andrea Voigt said that the illegal trade needed to be addressed to ensure the ongoing success of the F-gas regulation. She called for “proper enforcement”, the introduction of dissuasive fines and penalties for non-compliance, as well as stricter controls at EU borders.
Voigt added that the illegal trade not only posed a major reliability and safety hazard for installers and users but also threatened the CO2-equivalent reduction goals set by the regulation.
Niccolò Costantini reminded the audience that member states are principally responsible for the enforcement of the F-gas regulation and they were already taking some targeted measures to prevent illegal trade in HFCs.
This includes regular checking of certain companies when their goods pass through customs, customs officer training, spot checks, meetings between the environment ministries and inspectorates and customs authorities, frequent website checks and requesting the closure of illegal web sales.
He also revealed that some member states were planning to set up an expert group to exchange best practices for customs authorities and prepare a joint guidance document on implementation.
The Commission says it is continuing to emphasise to member states the importance of enforcement of the F-gas regulation and warns it will open infringement procedures member states against those deemed to not be making sufficient effort.
It says it is also working with customs authorities by providing guidance and supporting the establishment of an expert group.