F-Gases: An Essential Landmark for Europe's Low-Carbon Roadmap

03/15/2011 04:37 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Next week, the EU's Council of Ministers will meet to discuss Europe's Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050. This document charts the route that member states must follow to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the ultimate aim of keeping global temperature rises within safe limits.

The roadmap focuses (as it rightly should) on limiting the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that result from our overreliance on fossil fuels. But it neglects to adequately address limits on other gases and particles forcing climate change. By doing so, it is missing an opportunity. ClientEarth's lawyers are working to make sure this mistake is not overlooked.

CO2 is the major contributor to climate change, but climate forcers such as black carbon, ozone and fluorinated gases (f-gases) can offer dramatic reductions in temperature increases -- and provide us with swift results. Found in products such as refrigerators and air-conditioning units, f-gases, for instance HFCs, are forcing up global temperatures but, importantly, their effects are short-lived. This means that tightening regulations on their use could achieve meaningful gains in the near term. Making progress now is important because it buys crucial time to play the long game, in which we need to further decarbonize our economies.

The newest report from ClientEarth's climate and energy team, "Overhauling EU Regulation of Fluorinated Gases, shows how the Commission is under-emphasizing action on f-gases and sets out detailed legal and technical recommendations for action. It shows that cost-effective regulation of these 'super-greenhouse gases' could mitigate the equivalent of 5 billion tons of CO2 -- helping to achieve some of Europe's more ambitious targets for 2020 and 2050.

We continue to advocate for strong regulation to bring down CO2 emissions. But climate change will bite before CO2's effects can be sufficiently reduced. It is essential that we complement existing measures on CO2 by taking immediate action on the other elements pushing up global temperatures.

Europe's decision-makers must recognize that there are more routes available to reduced temperature rises than are marked on the Commission's roadmap. Current discussions provide a perfect chance for Europe to look beyond CO2 alone, and to take assertive action on f-gases, black carbon and ozone. When the European Union's Council of Ministers meets on Monday, let's hope it's an opportunity they don't miss.