Clive Efford today launched a Bill in Parliament to end the use of hydrofluorocarbons—HFCs—in the refrigeration units of large supermarkets.
HFCs are having a devastating impact on global warming and supermarkets are responsible for more than half of all HFC emissions. Hydrofluorocarbons can be up to 20,000 times more harmful in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide. HFCs were introduced into widespread use chlorofluorocarbons—CFCs—were prohibited in the 1990s because of the damage they do to the ozone layer. Whilst HFCs do not harm the ozone layer, they are powerful global warming gases.
The phasing out of HFC use in the supermarket sector by 2015 has the potential to save 175 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between now and 2050, which is more than one quarter of the UK’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2005, the amount of HFC emissions leaking from supermarket refrigeration was estimated to be equivalent to 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. To put that into perspective, it equates to one person flying in a plane from London to New York more than 2.5 million times; to the production of 10 billion plastic bags; to one billion car trips to the supermarket; to the annual carbon foot print of 200,000 people; or to driving round the circumference of the earth 300,000 times—if that were possible.
The supermarkets say that they are willing to make more progress in this area. But because the industry is so competitive they say they need the government to step in to create a level playing field for their industry, so that all competitors would be required to do the same.
The Bill does not seek to introduce a complete phase-out of HFCs, but that is an attractive option for climate protection. A total HFC phase-out would cover all types of HFCs. Based on 3 per cent. annual growth from 2006, a phase-out schedule would save almost 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between now and 2050—more than three quarters of the UK’s current total annual greenhouse gas emissions. The fast phasing out of HFCs in supermarkets would save about one quarter of the UK’s current annual greenhouse gas emissions in that period.
The Bill does not seek to impose additional financial burdens on small retailers. Smaller retailers should be required to introduce more environmentally-friendly equipment as their old units need to be replaced. There are already many environmentally friendly alternatives for smaller supermarkets, and they generally use different refrigeration technology from the larger stores.
With supermarkets still making hundreds of millions of pounds in profit – and in Tesco’s case over £3 billion – each year, the sector is well able to absorb the costs of replacing HFCs with more environmentally friendly products.