11 Oct 2019 Story Environmental rights and governance

Poland takes decisive action against illegal trade of hydrofluorocarbons

International illegal trade in ozone depleting substances and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—powerful greenhouse gases—pose a serious threat to the environment and human health. Millions of cases of skin cancer and eye cataracts will be averted with the recovery of the ozone layer, preventing harmful UV-rays from reaching the earth. But, if unchecked, illegal trade in ozone depleting substances and HFCs could jeopardize the success of the Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment which entered into force on 1 January 2019. The Amendment can avoid up to 0.4°C of global atmospheric temperature rise by the end of this century.

Customs play a crucial role in the fight against illegal trade. They provide effective training for their officers on environmentally sensitive commodities, and share information between importing and exporting countries. In recognition of the efforts of customs and enforcement officers to combat the illegal trade in environmentally sensitive commodities, the UN Environment Programme’s OzonAction, the Ozone Secretariat and the World Customs Organization created the Montreal Protocol Customs Award.

Under the global customs award, 587 seizures were reported by 24 countries, including Argentina, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Honduras, Iran, Jordan, Mongolia, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Rwanda, Spain, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

A total of 255,726 kg of chemicals were seized, equating to nearly 20,000 cans, cylinders or containers, alongside numerous pieces of equipment. Only 24 countries out of the 196 Parties to the Montreal Protocol countries reported seizures—or 12 per cent of Parties. This leaves us to deduce that the true volume of illegal trade is much higher.

The good news is that valuable information to help prevent the illegal trade is now more widely available, including common smuggling schemes and routes, and other intelligence concerning the illegal trade. Some of the objectives the global award was created to achieve have already been met.

Poland, the champion, with 72 per cent of all seizures under the global customs award

The National Revenue Administration of Poland, under which Polish customs operate, tightened their controls policy because of concerns over the reported availability of illegal HFCs on the market.

Customs officers were thus tasked with the collection of data on infringements of HFCs regulations to determine what enforcement actions were needed. Capacity-building on legal aspects, risk analysis, the use of available tools and devices, such as refrigerant identifiers, increased the knowledge and skills of customs officers.

This led to 425 seizures, following actions taken in 2018 to respect obligations under the Montreal Protocol. The cases included: shipments of non-quota HFCs, cylinders that either were not labelled or had non-compliant labels and numerous cases in which illegal HFCs were smuggled in relatively small amounts and concealed in vehicles entering Poland via the European Union external land border.

A press conference and a national award ceremony to congratulate all 45 awardees and six organizations will be organized in November 2019.

The cases submitted for the global customs award revealed a necessity for deeper national interagency collaboration, as well as a need for cooperation at a regional level between export, transit and destination countries, in order to monitor illegal shipments of HFCs once refused by customs.

Following the global customs award results, Poland launched an initiative to set up a European Union working group on F-gases to determine risks, identify and apply best working practices. The ongoing work of the group aims at drawing up recommendations that would help in enforcement on illegal trade, develop tools for effective customs actions and training on HFCs, and promote cooperation.