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Montreal Protocol Closing in on Powerful Climate Protection


Phasing down HFC production can provide fast, climate benefits

Washington, DC, 18 July 2014 - The world’s efforts to protect the climate from dangerous fluorinated gases moved forward this week in Paris at the mid-year meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol, which concluded today.

The meeting, called the Open-Ended Working Group, was preceded by a two-day seminar last Friday and Saturday on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), focusing on the growing availability of substitutes for the current HFCs with high global warming potential, as well as the relationship with the UNFCCC, and the availability of funding for developing countries.  (HFCs are used primarily as refrigerants in air conditioners, refrigerators, and other products and equipment, as well as to make insulating foams.)

The seminar demonstrated that new climate friendly technologies were already entering the market and already competing with high-GWP HFCs.  The choice for small room air condition was HC-290, and HFC-32 for medium room air conditioning, with hydrocarbons, CO2, water and methyl formate for foam.  For mobile air conditioning, it may be too close to call, with HFO-1234yf and HFC-152a both in contention.  There seem to be no clear choices yet for meter dose inhalers, technical aerosol products, or specialty fire protection.

Some products and equipment operating in high ambient temperature may require special use exemptions for HCFC-22 and HFC blends until technology is proven and reaches economy of scale and competitive prices.

The central discussion at the Open-Ended Working Group was how to stop the growth of HFCs, which are super greenhouse gases.  They are the fastest growing climate pollutants in the US, China, and many other countries.

The parties agreed to launch a discussion group to address issues raised by the few remaining reluctant parties, including legal issues that were quickly dismissed, issues about the availability of substitutes to the current refrigerants, and issues relating to the linkage between the Montreal Protocol and the climate treaty, called the UNFCCC.

The parties also discussed how much funding the developed country parties should provide for the three-year replenishment of the Montreal Protocol’s dedicated funding mechanism, called the Multilateral Fund.  The last replenishment was $450 million over three years.

The parties will continue their negotiations at the Montreal Protocol’s meeting of the parties in November, which also will be in Paris. Most parties were focusing on an agreement to be reached next year, but others appear to be ready with finance and fast action if agreement can be reached in November 2014.

Many parties asked for sharper technical assessment to make choices clear and to document what the most technically sophisticated companies are choosing for next generation technology. Parties are also asking for more demonstrations and technical workshops.

The effort to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol began five years ago when small island States, lead by the Federated States of Micronesia, first proposed an amendment to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, in order to provide fast mitigation that would slow sea-level rise and the violent storm surges that threaten the existence of many islands.  Morocco has since joined the FSM proposal.

A second proposal to phase down HFCs quickly followed from the US, Mexico, and Canada.  Both proposals have been submitted annually since 2009.  The number of supporters for phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol has grown to more than 100 since then. This includes support from the G7 and the G20 heads of State, who endorsed phasing down production and consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, while leaving accounting and reporting of HFC emissions in the UNFCCC.

The G20 includes China, and China President Xi also reached a bilateral agreement with US President Obama to start formal negotiations on the HFC proposal by forming a “contact” group.  This week China made its most forceful statement about HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

Other G20 countries, however, have not yet followed through with their G20 commitment.  This includes India, which sent a new delegation to this week’s meeting but was still opposing the formation of a contact group, although with less enthusiasm than in the past.  (It appeared that the new government in India has not yet decided what its position on HFCs will be.)

Brazil (along with Argentina) has also continued to oppose the start of formal negotiations, primarily it seems because of concerns that the Montreal Protocol’s funding mechanism may not receive sufficient funds when it is replenished this fall.

Saudi Arabia emerged as the most vocal opponent of the HFC proposal this week, because their negotiator said their country is very hot and there is concern that the new substitute refrigerants may not work as well.  Other States in the region, in particular Jordan, were supportive of the HFC phasedown.

The proposed HFC phasedown would provide the biggest, fastest, and most secure climate mitigation available in the near-term through 2020—the equivalent of 100 billion tonnes of CO2.  (In contrast, the Kyoto Protocol has provided 5 to 10 billion tonnes of CO2-eq so far.)  The HFC phasedown would avoid up to 0.5C of warming by the end of the century. If the phasedown of HFCs was done by 2020, the climate mitigation would be up to 200 billion tonnes of CO2-eq. The HFC phasedown also would improve energy efficiency of air conditioners, refrigerators, and other products and equipment that use these chemicals as refrigerants.  This will avoid significant amounts of CO2 emissions from the power plants that provide the electricity to run these products and equipment.

The Montreal Protocol is widely regarded as the world’s most effective environmental treaty, having earlier phased out CFCs and now phasing out HCFCs, chemicals that both destroy the stratospheric ozone layer and also warm the climate. This success has put the stratospheric ozone layer on the path to recover later this century. The Montreal Protocol has also provided the equivalent of up to 200 billion tonnes of CO2 in mitigation. The early efforts to boycott CFCs in hairspray and deodorant spry cans, starting in 1974 when Mario Molina and Sherry Roland discovered that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer (which lead to their sharing the Nobel Prize in chemistry), plus the national and then international effort to eliminate CFCs and related chemicals, has solved an amount of climate change that otherwise would have equaled the amount of warming CO2 is now contributing.

Also this week, Paris hosted the working group meeting of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, known as the CCAC. (The CCAC secretariat is based in UNEP’s Paris office.) The short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) include HFCs, black carbon soot, methane and tropospheric ozone, the main part of urban smog.  The CCAC will be featuring the proposed Montreal Protocol HFC phasedown at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in September.  (The Summit’s goal is to catalyze more ambitious climate mitigation from heads of State.)  The goal at the Secretary General’s summit is to reach agreement among key Montreal Protocol parties to announce a specific schedule for negotiating the HFC phasedown, with the end date before COP 21 in Paris next December.

IGSD’s Primer on HFCs is here.