Controversy heats up over refrigerant gases report

Concern over global warming remains the driving force behind tough national laws over polluting emissions. A new UN report on hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs) and perfluorcarbons (PFCs) has generated a row between environmentalists and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). LAWE Editor Alexander Catto reports

Opposing camps have already taken up positions over a recent report on ozone and climate published by IPPC/TEAP (Technology and Economic Assessment Panel of the Montreal Protocol).

Two years in the making, and as yet only available as a 19-page "Summary for Policymakers", the full report will be published in mid-2005 by Cambridge University Press.

However, battle lines have already been drawn, with EPEE (European Partnership for Energy and the Environment), which represents businesses involved in the development and manufacture of equipment which relies on HFCs as a refrigerant, welcoming the UN report as backing containment and responsible use policy for HFCs. Taking issue with the initial indications of the conclusions of the report is an environmental group, MIPIGGs (Multisectoral Initiative on Potent Industrial Greenhouse Gases), which has issued a 10-point critique of the findings and has called on governments not to accept the UN F-Gas Report.

IPCC, which was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation |(WMO) and the United Nations Environment Panel (UNEP), has been quick to rebut MIPIGGs' attack.

Case for HFCs

EPEE says that the published summary highlights the importance of HFCs, as replacements to CFCs. The report clearly shows that while HFC emissions are rising, the combined emissions of CFCs, HCFCs and HFCs have been reduced overall by a third. It further states that HFCs' contribution to global warming by 2015, under Business As Usual (BAU), will be 1% of overall global warming. The report validates the approach of containment and responsible use as the way to reduce greenhouse emissions.

According to Friedrich Busch, Director General of EPEE: "The report is the most comprehensive overview of the state-of-art of technology and science and predictions for the future. This will act as basis to on-going and future action by industry and legislators across the world to reduce chlorine concentration and greenhouse gas emissions. "

EPEE believes that "for the foreseeable future, HFCs will continue to play a role in many applications globally, particularly when factors including CO2 emissions, energy consumption and safety (toxicity and flammability) are taken into account." Taking a diametrically opposing view, MIPIGGs says the report could lead governments to allow a "vast" increase in HFC emissions. The environmental group says that the report fails to set out policy options, hugely underplays the scope for "Not In Kind" alternatives and shows "pie-in-the-sky optimism" over what containment can achieve.

MIPIGGs also alleges that, by mixing up HFCs, CFCs and HCFCs in its discussion and diagrams, the Executive Summary will confuse many politicians and officials who often do not appreciate the differences, and disguises the fact that HFCs are an emerging, growing problem while the other gases are already in industrial decline. In its response, IPCC considers accusations from MIPIGGs group regarding the report recently as unfounded, rebutting each criticism in turn. For example IPCC states that the report does pay ample attention to replacements of HFCs, but as one of the options to reduce HFC emissions. In this context it is important to note that the Kyoto Protocol controls emissions of HFC, but not its production or consumption.

UK traffic initiatives

On the domestic front, Ken Livingstone, The Mayor of London, has released latest statistics on which areas of London suffer from the worst air pollution and the sources of that pollution.

The London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory reveals that road traffic accounted for 52% of nitrogen oxide emissions (NOX) and 51% of fine particulate (PM10) matter in greater London in 2002.

In central London taxis account for 12% of NOX emissions from traffic, buses and coaches for 24% and heavy lorries for 31%. Similarly, in central London taxis account for 24% of PM10 emissions, buses and coaches for 10% and heavy lorries for 19%. Across London as a whole, however, lorries, vans and private cars account for the vast majority of emissions, 85% of both of NOX and PM10 emissions from traffic and 44% and 42%, respectively, from all sources.

The Mayor said: "I am committed to introducing a Low Emission Zone for London to ban the most polluting coaches, and lorries from Greater London, making London the only major city in the world to have taken such a radical step to tackle air pollution."

And getting down to the essential practicalities of reducing emissions, Croydon Borough Council has made environmentally friendly modifications to service vehicles as part of the its "Green The Fleet" action plan. Twenty-two council vehicles have been fitted with particulate traps, which reduce the emission of harmful particulate matter (PM10) by between 80 to 95%. A further six vehicles are expected to be completed within the next few months and a programme to fit the refuse and recycling trucks, operated by Cleanaway, with particulate traps has almost been completed.

Grants from Transport for London and the Energy-Saving Trust have funded the programme, which is part of an extensive strategy to improve air quality in the borough.


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