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Countries begin formal talks while HFC climate bomb ticks

The Montreal Protocol took a long-awaited, first step towards eradicating hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) last week in Bangkok, with the first formal discussions since a phase down was first mooted in 2009. Until now, a few countries have been reluctant to even discuss these climate-destroying chemicals. But this week, countries agreed to form a “Discussion Group,” focusing on "how" to deal with HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, not "why."

In the Discussion Group meetings, some countries expressed their concerns over the availability of commercially viable alternatives and the financing available for the transition. They also discussed how they would establish a supportive relationship between the Montreal Protocol and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For the first time, China did not block formal discussions, a significant change from previous positions.

Progress on HFC controls

We first saw China make a U-turn on HFCs earlier this month when President Xi Jinping and President Obama reached an important agreement to work together to phase-down the production and consumption of HFCs using the Montreal Protocol. Following that announcement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in remarks during his recent trip to India, talked about the need for India and the United States to do the same, which could lead to the elimination of roughly the equivalent of two years’ worth of current global emissions by the year 2050.

Then just last week, President Obama in his Climate Action Plan outlined how the United States would take domestic action on HFCs by “identifying and approving climate-friendly chemicals while prohibiting certain uses of the most harmful chemical alternatives” through the ‘Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP)’ of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and by redoubling efforts internationally. Meanwhile, the European Parliament took a significant step by proposing widespread bans on the use of HFCs in equipment in Europe. The proposals will now head to EU member states for a tentative agreement by the end of 2013.

It is incredibly exciting that the largest producers and consumers of HFCs are dealing with this issue at the highest levels and that Parties to the Montreal Protocol have held the first formal discussions on phasing out these super greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile the climate bomb ticks

Time is of the essence. Last week, we issued a report revealing that certain plants, primarily in China and likely in Mexico, are emitting significant amounts of HFC-23 into the atmosphere, making them some of the largest point sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the world. HFC-23, a by-product in the production of a chemical (HCFC-22) primarily used in air conditioning and refrigeration, has a global warming potential 14,800 times higher than CO2.

What is more disconcerting is that certain Chinese and Indian plants, which have already received windfall profits from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UNFCCC to destroy the HFC-23 by-product, are holding the world hostage by threatening to set off a climate bomb if they don't receive millions of dollars for the destruction of the HFC-23 they are producing. If these CDM plants also begin releasing HFC-23 into the environment, it would cause the release of more than two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) by 2020.

Next steps

Parties to the Montreal Protocol will meet again in October but until then, countries must roll up their sleeves and begin taking real domestic actions. This includes taking immediate action to address HFC-23 emissions. EIA will be reaching out to all countries with HCFC-22 production to take immediate action to address HFC-23 emissions.

For more information, contact EIA:

Avipsa Mahapatra
+1 (202) 483-6621

Mark Roberts
+1 (978) 298-5705

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