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Corporate control of the climate stalls negotiations

The 19th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) is currently happening in Warsaw, Poland in an attempt to curb the devastating effects of our warming climate.

To kick off the negotiations, Yeb Sano, the lead negotiator for the Philippines took the floor and delivered a heartfelt plea to the world. He said that this was not a discussion taking place in a vacuum, but that decisions made at this meeting would be felt by billions of people around the world. He asked the Parties, if we don’t act now, then when?

Despite the urgency of his plea, countries in Warsaw are ignoring the real problems at hand, and instead surrounding themselves with some corporate interests. Since the first international climate negotiations, corporations have been a part of the process. And while it makes sense that they want to protect their industries, oil, gas, energy and chemical companies are stalling the process. In Warsaw, the corporate presence is very visible with corporate logos splashed across every corner of the building.

Meanwhile, the gap is widening between the amount of emissions reductions countries have pledged and the amount needed to avoid perilous tipping points. This gap is about to increase, as Australia has taken the first steps to cancel its carbon tax and Japan is backtracking from what it promised to reduce.

As corporate interests continue to delay these negotiations, there’s one opportunity that shouldn’t be missed to address climate change in the short-term -- eliminating hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol. HFCs are man-made gases developed and commercialized to replace the chemicals that de­plete the ozone layer. HFCs have global warming potentials hundreds and thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2), and are primarily used in refrigeration, air conditioning, foam blowing, aerosols, fire protection and solvents.

Good news is that many countries at COP19 have specifically identified using the Montreal Protocol, the treaty set up to tackle the hole in the ozone layer, to phase down the consumption and production of these super greenhouse gases while allowing the UNFCCC to account for HFC emissions.

By phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, 100 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent could be mitigated by 2050. Even before 2020, when only developed countries are taking action, more than 2 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent could be mitigated. For developing countries, extra time and finance would be provided to reduce HFCs. The Montreal Protocol has a proven track record for effectively providing financial support for the phase-out of ozone depleting chemicals through contributions and technology transfer.

Unfortunately, a few countries are trying to block progress to eliminate HFCs. India and Saudi Arabia have both made interventions against using the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs at COP19. Not surprisingly, corporate interests most likely play a role here as well. In India, five families own five large fluorinated gas companies that for years have sent representatives to the Montreal Protocol to lobby against eliminating HFCs. These companies have received millions of dollars in the past through climate finance that has now dried up because these companies abused the system and were over paid.

Governments must start creating an atmosphere of winning at these climate negotiations, stop listening to a narrow group of corporate interests, and start with a big win--agreeing to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. I truly hope the final week of negotiations shows that governments represent not just a few powerful companies, but all of their citizens, including industries that want action on climate change, and HFCs, now.

For more information, please contact the author.

Danielle Gagne
HFC & Climate Policy Analyst

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