For years, the chemical company 3M in Zwijndrecht has released far more greenhouse gases than expected. This was confirmed by Minister of Environment Zakia El Khattabi (Echolo) in Parliament. Moreover, since emissions were finally adjusted in 2017, more pollution could intervene in the next decade. After all, European emissions reduction targets are calculated based on emissions in the previous period. “It is no surprise that I am stunned by the consequences of such reports,” Al-Khattabi said.
The news site Apache rang the bell last month: The US chemical multinational 3M branch in Zuigendrecht — responsible for pollution with virtually non-degradable PFOS in and around its site — has been releasing large quantities of HFC-23 for years, which is The so-called fluorinated gas containing fluorine is known as a heavy greenhouse gas. Furthermore, these emissions have been significantly underestimated for years, so the emissions to be reported for Europe were suddenly revised sharply upwards in 2017.
Al-Khattabi confirmed the story today on the House Committee on Energy, Environment, and Climate, where she received a question about it from Kim Poist (Gruen). The Secretary has asked her administration to conduct an analysis in response to reports on 3M emissions. I decided that the company’s greenhouse gas emissions should be adjusted up. According to my letter, the company emitted 1.4 million tons of CO2-equivalent in 2019, which is more than a third of all F-gas emissions in Belgium.
The Flemish Competent District
Al-Khattabi noted that such emissions are usually not under the radar: there are a few companies that emit more than one million tons of greenhouse gases in Belgium. This concerns, for example, a number of refineries and petrochemical companies. However, almost all of these major pollutants fall under the European Emissions Trading System (ETS), which means that their emissions are reported annually. My speech says this is not the case for 3M: here the Flemish region is competent and applies binding European targets to reduce emissions.
The Minister also noted the passage of time in the file. After all, inventory reports have already been reported since 2015 that 3M’s emissions of F-gases may be underestimated, but that suspicion will only be confirmed by measurements in 2020. After that, all 3M emissions of F-gases will be reviewed, Al Khattabi said. 2005 to 2017 up.
More emissions possible
These recalculations are permitted under international and European rules, but the effect is that non-ETS sectors are allowed to issue more in the 2021-2030 period. This is because the so-called emission allowance in that period is calculated based on, among other things, the average emissions from 2016 to 2018: by adjusting emissions significantly, more room is freed up for emissions.
According to the Minister’s administration, this includes 6.5 to 6.8 million tons of additional CO2-eq over the next nine years. In addition, reported emissions figures well below 3M were used to calculate greenhouse gas emissions for the period 2013-2017. As a result, the Flemish region did not have to waive emissions rights for around 5 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Equivalent to emissions from the entire Belgian fleet of vehicles”
“It is no surprise to me that the current rules for reporting greenhouse gas emissions allow me,” Al-Khattabi said. According to the minister, this all adds up to an additional 11 million tons of CO2-eq. “This corresponds to emissions of almost the entire Belgian fleet of vehicles in one year.”
Finally, Khattabi blames her Flemish colleagues for the lack of ambition to avoid new contamination with PFAS in the future. “I support the principle that the polluter should pay, but in cases like this monetary compensation cannot return the irreparable,” she said. “Together with my colleagues Walloon and Brussels and with Health Minister Frank Vandenbroek, I will continue to insist on a preventive policy to prevent such disasters.”
Green MP Kim Buyst says it is “unjustifiable that such a large contamination has been reported by 3M only so late”. “Obviously this is allowed in Europe, but we shouldn’t be foolish about it: Such loopholes in the system erode climate targets,” she says. Moreover, Buyst finds it surprising that the recalculation just took place in the year the emission allowance for 2021-2030 was calculated. He concludes: “One could say that Flanders approached accounting for greenhouse gases in a creative way.”
“Everyone wipes at their door”
In response, Flemish Environment Minister Saturn Demmer (N-VA) noted that “Ms. Khattabi started talking about PFOS after Flanders made it a priority”. According to Demir, a “decisive policy” around the PFAS is needed, but she says it does not allow my speech to interfere strictly with the Flemish authorities. “Knowledge-sharing and collaboration where possible, of course,” she adds.
Demir also mentioned that the question of what actions the federal government would take, with the exception of Health Minister Frank Vandenbroek, remained unanswered. “Everyone should mop in front of their door. Flanders is the only region in the country that has a PFAS action plan, which is now being accelerated in this area”, concludes the Flemish minister.
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