Clive launches bill to eradicate hydrofluorocarbons

Clive Efford (Eltham, Labour)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for limiting the use of hydrofluorocarbons in certain premises; and for connected purposes.

This Bill will end the use of hydrofluorocarbons—HFCs—in the refrigeration units of large supermarkets. I seek to introduce it because urgent action is needed to end the devastating impact of HFCs on global warming, and because supermarkets are responsible for more than half of all HFC emissions.

Before I set out my case, I must stress that I do not seek to impose additional financial burdens on small retailers, which we all recognise as small, corner convenience stores. I should expect smaller retailers to be required to introduce equipment that does not add to global warming when 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. Small stores tend to use what is called “plug and play equipment”, which does not involve large centralised systems, is often much less likely to leak and increasingly uses low-global-warming alternatives, such as hydrocarbons, which also offer improved energy efficiency. Those alternative carbon-based systems are neither more expensive to purchase nor more expensive to run.

The Bill seeks to deal with emissions from larger stores. Hydrofluorocarbons, are part of a group of gases known as F gases. F gases, according to Greenpeace, can be up to 20,000 times more harmful in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide. HFCs were introduced into widespread use under the Montreal protocol in the 1990s to replace chlorofluorocarbons—CFCs—and end the depletion of the ozone layer that their widespread use caused. HFCs do not harm the ozone layer, but they are powerful global warming gases.

In 2005, stationary refrigeration was the biggest source of F gas emissions in the UK, accounting for almost 27 per cent. within the sector. HFC emissions from supermarkets account for more than half the total emissions, and direct emissions from leaking refrigerant gases can account for up to one third of a supermarket chain’s carbon footprint. 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, I should say that that 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 over an average distance of 7.5 miles; 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 issue of HFC emissions by supermarkets was highlighted in a report called “Chilling Facts” from the Environmental Investigation Agency earlier this year, and I commend the agency for its work to highlight this important issue. The report confirmed that supermarkets are the biggest source of HFCs in the UK. It investigated the progress that had been made by supermarkets that signed up in 2007 to reducing emissions of HFCs, and the agency asked 11 of the large high street supermarkets what they were doing to reduce the climate change impacts of their refrigeration. The results did not make for encouraging reading. The best-performing supermarket had succeeded in introducing climate-friendly refrigerants in only three out of 620 stores. For others, the figure was four out of 1,700 stores, and for one supermarket, it was one out of 2,250 stores.

My intention today, however, is not to name and shame any single supermarket. There is widespread agreement, from the campaigners and the supermarkets themselves, that action is necessary, and my Bill aims to bring everyone together to secure an agreement to end the use of HFCs in refrigeration units. In response to the publication of the EIA report, supermarket representatives indicated a willingness to make more progress in this area. They said that they wanted the Government to regulate to create a level playing field for their industry, suggesting that that would allow the large supermarkets to plan in the knowledge that their competitors would be required to do the same. This is a highly competitive market in which supermarket giants are constantly seeking to exploit any advantages over one another. The Government should take the industry at its word and legislate for a level playing field in relation to emissions of HFCs.

The UK Government are committed to an 80 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. Today, HFCs equal 1.5 per cent. of total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. However, if emissions continue to grow at about 3 per cent. per year, then while we make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, by 2050 HFCs will constitute 12 per cent. of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

The Bill does not seek to introduce a complete phase-out of HFCs, but that is an attractive option for climate protection. A phase-out would be based on production and consumption of HFCs. 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.

In 2007, the value of the food market as a whole was estimated at £72.8 billion, with supermarkets accounting for more than half of these grocery sales. In April, Tesco said it had rung up sales of £1 billion a week, with annual pre-tax profits of more than £3 billion for the first time in its history—up 8.8 per cent. In May, The Guardian reported that Asda had unveiled a market-leading 8.4 per cent. increase in first quarter sales, and that Sainsbury’s had delivered profits of £543 million on sales of £20.4 billion. This sector, even in these difficult economic times, could sustain the costs of changing from HFCs to climate-friendly carbon alternatives.

The time to act is now. We are going to experience the most harmful impact on HFCs in the next 20 years, and the earlier we act to reduce their use, the greater the impact of our actions. Urgency is not just about the end users. Action now would send a message to manufacturers that it is time to start investing in new forms of coolants for refrigeration that do not accelerate global warming. That would prevent the production of more of these harmful gases and avoid their having to be stored and eventually disposed of in safety.

I know that my Bill is unlikely to progress in the time remaining in this parliamentary Session. However, let me stress to the Minister that the supermarkets themselves are seeking regulation for a level playing field, and supporting this Bill could offer the opportunity to get an agreement on the way forward: something that is urgently needed. If the Government do not act by supporting this Bill, the responsibility will remain for them to act, and they must do so quickly.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

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