EIA launches online platform to track illegal trade in HFCs and fluorinated gases

The illegal trade in refrigerants like HCFCs, HFCs and HFOs has been added to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Global Environmental Crime Tracker. New Global Refrigerant Seizure Tracking illustrates the hotspots of smuggling and trafficking of environmentally harmful fluorinated gases.

Developed by the EIA Intelligence Team, the platform contains information gathered from news reports, Montreal Protocol documentation and other official communications dating back to 2001.

The Global Refrigerant Seizure Tracker is accessible here.

According to a recent statement from the EIA, interactive dashboard and live mapping allow users to learn about “the biggest eco-crime no one has heard of”: the illegal trade in HFCs and other fluorinated gases. The platform includes information on refrigerant type, exporting country, and smuggling method.

“Low risk and high profit make the illegal trade in refrigerants attractive to criminal networks,” the EIA said. “Yet this is often not a priority for law enforcement agencies, and the penalties are typically minor for a crime that nevertheless costs governments and legitimate businesses millions in lost revenue and results in significant emissions of gases harmful to the ozone layer and the climate,” he added.

The EIA has investigated and exposed the illegal trade in refrigerants since the 1990s, beginning with the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances like CFCs and HCFCs under the Montreal Protocol. Thirty years later, following the signing of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the illegal trade in HFCs is now on the rise.

“Penalties are typically minor for a crime that nevertheless costs governments and legitimate businesses millions in lost revenue and results in significant emissions of gases harmful to the ozone layer and the climate.”

EIA

According to the EIA, this is amplified in the EU due to the accelerated action of its F-gas regulation and the subsequent increase in the price of HFCs. As detailed in the EIA’s 2021 report – “Europe’s Scariest Crime: The Illegal Trade in HFC Refrigerants” – smugglers buy cheap HFCs outside the EU where legislation is less stringent, resell them within the EU for a premium and circumvent the bloc’s quota system. EIA investigations focused on Romania as one of the main routes into the EU, with illegal HFCs smuggled in from Ukraine and Turkey (via Bulgaria).

The EIA estimates that the potential climate impact of illegal trade in HFCs to the EU is equivalent to the GHG emissions of more than 6.5 million cars driven for one year.

By publicly sharing information through its free online tracking tool, the EIA hopes to “strengthen awareness and enforcement efforts worldwide.”

The EIA requests that any additional information or data on refrigerant gas seizures be emailed to sophiegeoghegan[at]eia-international.org.


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Stephen V. Lee