Combatting HFCs with the Most-Effective MEA

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are greenhouse gases commonly used in a variety of applications, including refrigeration, air conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems, and aerosols. HFCs are a synthetic gas and have a high global warming potential, with some estimates putting their global warming impact at up to 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide. This global warming potential is especially troubling because HFC emissions are projected to increase nearly twentyfold in the coming decades. Without a reduction in emissions, HFCs could contribute the equivalent of 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide and lead to more than 0.5°C of warming. This increase in HFC emissions would offset many of the climate benefits that the Montreal Protocol has achieved.

The Montreal Protocol, which is an implementing instrument of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, was adopted in 1987 and is widely accepted in the international community as one of the most successful multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). The purpose of the Protocol is to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to reduce their abundance in the atmosphere, and thereby protect the earth’s fragile ozone layer. Since adoption, nearly 100 ozone-depleting substances have been phased out world-wide. The Protocol is estimated to have averted greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 135 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The Protocol is most well-known for its success in eliminating emissions of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a common component in refrigerators. CFCs emissions contributed to the hole in the ozone layer, and their phasing out will allow the ozone layer to recover by the middle of the century. Now, the Parties are using it to combat HFC emissions.

From November 1-5, 2015, the Parties to the Vienna Convention debated whether to address HFCs through an amendment to the convention or to try and combat the problem through the UNFCCC. The Parties ultimately agreed to a “Dubai Pathway” for negotiations on an amendment to phase out HFC emissions. “After seven years of efforts, we have at last agreed to amend the Montreal Protocol next year to phase down HFCs,” Jeem Lippwe, a negotiator for Micronesia, told reporters on the conclusion of the talks. This Pathway helped the Parties agree to an amendment, which was adopted at the Conference of the Parties to the Vienna Convention this year.

On October 14, the nearly 200 Parties to the Vienna Convention agreed to the Kigali Amendment. This Amendment outlines a plan in which developed countries, including the US and the EU, will start phasing out HFC emissions by 2019. A group of developing countries including China, Brazil, and most of Africa will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024. All Parties will significantly reduce consumption of HFCs by the late 2040s. The Parties also agreed to provide financing for HFCs reduction, with an exact amount to be determined at their next meeting in 2017. The ambitious Kigali Amendment sends a clear statement by world leaders that the transformation started in Paris is irreversible and unstoppable.