The last time I wrote to you, I was full of tales of the pain being felt by the cooling industry in Europe as the F-Gas regulations started to squeeze the market for higher-GWP refrigerants via their combination of restrictions on supply and bans on use.

Now I can tell you that the European Commission has confirmed that such pain is precisely what it had in mind to drive the European industry towards better solutions for the environment.

Consequently, the Commission was in no mind to consider any kind of exemptions at this stage, whatever stories of distress might be emanating from certain countries. One should feel sympathy for Spain particularly, which has made all the right moves in driving carbon reduction with its tax on HFC use, but where now the poor contractors and end-users are faced with hugely increased prices due to the declining availability and then a whacking great tax to pay on top of it.

Last week, the Commission held what it called its F-Gas Consultation Forum, in which it sought to bring stakeholders together to review the various impacts of the regulations so far. It hadn’t held one since December 2016, so those who attended were most interested to see what the consensus on the “progress report” was.

Interestingly, whilst the Forum was designed to "report," for some reason the Commission declined to invite the trade press, which is somewhat galling, given that some of us feel that we have played our part in helping the industry to deal with the impact of F-Gas.

I am sure such a thing couldn’t happen in the U.S., but it is worth bearing in mind that the trade press has a vital role to play. But we are grateful to those stakeholders who were there for telling us what happened.

Discussion naturally considered the soaring price of the higher-GWP refrigerants such as R410A and R404A and the concerns from countries such as Germany, as well as the aforementioned Spain.

Marco Buoni, vice president of cooling contractors’ association AREA, told RAC that while there was debate about amendments and extensions, no member states specifically asked for quota exemptions.

The clear view coming from the EC was that since latest emissions data has shown a falling trend in emissions from HFCs, the F-Gas mechanism is achieving its purpose. Thus, in the view of the Commission, the application of "strong medicine" by way of high prices is vital to encourage the speedier adoption of lower-GWP gas and technology, and therefore to continue the downward pressure on emissions.

It said in its briefing to stakeholders: "The price increases are clearly related to the GWP of the substances, i.e. a substance with a high GWP such as R404A had the strongest price increases. The developments therefore largely reflect what was expected to be the impact of the phase-down mechanism where successive quota reductions increasingly favour the use of low GWP HFC as well as non-HFC gases. Gas prices have reached levels of 20 Euros per tonne of CO2 equivalent, which is fully within the range that was considered to be a proportionate contribution by this sector to the 2050 [carbon reduction] roadmap. The existing price signal is clearly a good incentive for stakeholders to switch to low GWP technologies wherever and whenever possible, to prevent leakage and to reclaim gases."

One key point that was highlighted was that reclaimed refrigerant is not affected by the early bans — restrictions on use of higher-GWP refrigerants start to come in 2020, but the reclaimed versions of the gas have a 10-year extension — so it is equally important to encourage greater reliance on the recovery and recycling of refrigerant already on the market.

Whilst the Commission did not see a need to offer exemptions to member states, there were more positive discussions about national governments offering support to their cooling industries to help end-users with the expense of switching to new equipment for what will often be mildly flammable refrigerant.

One route could be to expand the low-carbon subsidy programmes that most countries have already to include environmentally friendlier — and lower-GWP — cooling equipment.

However, the ball here is in the court of the member states themselves, rather than the Commission.

Among the other topics discussed was whether the UK’s decision on Brexit might involve separating out an F-Gas quota for the British cooling industry — currently the quota is simply a European one.

The Commission is currently working out what the quota for UK and "European Union excluding UK" might amount to. This added complication might explain why as of today there is no publicly available figure for the exact 2018 HFC volume quota across Europe (although these were published in both 2016 and 2017).

Quota holders know what their individual volumes are for 2018, but some have raised concerns at the lack of a precise European total volume, noting that it would be helpful to better plan for future supply and demand scenarios. Whether you are a supplier, a contractor or a customer, it certainly doesn’t seem to be easy being a European cooling business at the moment — though the latter two certainly would happily swap their problems for the former’s.

The final key area of the discussion was the provision of training programmes to help the transition to both natural refrigerants and mildly flammable HFOs, both of which require changes in practice to varying degrees.

Buoni presented progress of the training platform called "Real Alternatives for Life," which has so far trained 5,000 people in alternatives to HFCs across Europe. The platform, currently available in five languages and later this year to be available in 13, is a pan-European “blended learning” [blending online and face to face learning] platform, backed by multiple industry associations and is free to use.

Its evolution is a great example of a positive and proactive approach to the changing refrigerant landscape. It is also something that the U.S. could easily adopt to prepare the workforce for the impact of the Kigali HFC phasedown.

One thing is clear: better preparation for the cultural change brought about the move to lower-GWP refrigerants would have eased the pain currently being felt by the European cooling industry. I have said it before — the U.S. can certainly learn from our experience.