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Formal Discussions on HFC Phase Down Begin at Montreal Protocol: 5 Things to Know

By Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA Global Climate and HFC Campaign Manager

This week the world has turned its focus to Dubai, as an extremely critical global agreement may emerge at the annual meeting of the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer. At this meeting, a formal contact group to begin negotiations on a global phase down of HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) was established. HFCs are super greenhouse gases (GHGs), rapidly increasing in use as replacements for ozone depleting substances used in refrigeration, air-conditioning and foams. A global agreement under the Montreal Protocol to address HFCs is the fastest, largest, and most cost effective action the global community can take to mitigate the effects of climate change. It will prevent the consumption of 100-200 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) HFCs by 2050 and prevent 0.5 degrees Celsius global warming by 2100.

The following are the five key takeaways on this global agreement on HFCs in the lead up to December’s Paris Climate Meetings and beyond:

1. Everyone Agrees Managing HFCs is Urgent

John Kerry and Gina McCarthy stated publicly this week that there is an urgent need for an immediate global phase down of the use of HFCs. But they were not the only ones. Global leaders including presidents and prime ministers, the G7, G8, G20, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and the Rio Declaration are just a few others who have endorsed action on HFCs. At this meeting, not a single country questioned the need to take decisive action to phase-down the consumption and production of HFCs. Emissions of HFCs continue to grow faster than any other GHG and their growth is predicted to accelerate in the future, with the potential to contribute up to 29 percent of the increase in business as usual CO2 equivalent emissions between now and 2050.

2. HFCs Need to be Addressed Under the Montreal Protocol

HFCs are included among the basket of seven GHGs targeted by the UNFCCC as they are super GHGs hundreds to thousands of times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide. However, they are primarily used as replacements for ozone depleting substances controlled under the Montreal Protocol. Over the past twenty-five years, HFC emissions have grown from almost nonexistent to nearly two percent of all GHGs. The Montreal Protocol has been able to phase out 98 percent of the chemicals that cause ozone depletion and can do the same with HFCs as they are used in the exact same industrial sectors. The mechanisms and institutions of the Montreal Protocol are best equipped to implement a global elimination of these gases. Additionally, a recent scientific paper revealed that HFCs actually do cause ozone depletion which will be significant to the climate as concentrations of these gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere.

3. HFC-free Technology is Here and is Energy Efficient

The meetings and several side events at the Montreal Protocol also demonstrated that low global warming potential (GWP), HFC-free alternatives exist in virtually all industrial sectors and regions of the world. The HFC-free alternatives are not only affordable, but are also more energy efficient than existing HFC-based options. Previously, some recalcitrant countries had opposed the idea of a global end to HFCs, claiming that options did not exist for high ambient temperature regions in the much needed air-conditioning sector. However, initial findings from a recent study by Oakridge National Laboratories established that an HFC-free refrigerant, propane (R-290), outperformed the energy efficiency of all other alternatives that were tested with it in mini-split air conditioners, at all temperatures and all ambient conditions. The wide variety of low-GWP alternatives can be seen in Putting the Freeze on HFCs and the 2015 Supplement.

4. The Amendment will have a Significant Climate Impact

The Montreal Protocol is already arguably the most successful climate agreement in history, having phased out CFCs resulting in reductions far outweighing those achieved by the Kyoto Protocol. If an ambitious amendment is adopted swiftly, it could prevent the consumption of more than 100-200 billion tonnes of CO2e HFCs by 2050. Four HFC phase down amendment proposals have been filed with the Montreal Protocol by the North American countries, Micronesia and other island countries, the European Union, and India, in total representing 40 countries. Although the amendment proposals differ in details, each proposal follows the proven formula of the Montreal Protocol: both developed and developing countries agree to controls on the included chemicals, with developing countries given more time and funding to cover transition costs and capacity building. The Parties to the Montreal Protocol need to act now so the historic mitigation accomplished during the phase-out of ozone depleting substances is not offset by the climate damage caused by the accelerated use and emission of HFCs.

5. Job is Not Done: The Parties Must Adopt an Equitable and Ambitious Path Forward

The Parties spent significant time in this contact group discussing challenges that developing countries will encounter if they are going to implement an HFC phase down. The main challenges discussed include flexibility of implementation i.e. developing a phase down schedule consistent with the timing of the availability of alternatives, assuring stable and sufficient finance and access to new technologies, patent licensing and intellectual property issues, energy efficiency, difficulties of transitioning out of HFCs in high ambient temperature countries. Several countries also indicated the need for an evolution of the Multilateral Fund (MLF), the financing arm of the Montreal Protocol to manage these new gases. Any amendment must be able to accommodate the desire of A5 Parties to achieve a transition to low-GWP alternatives in a single step by leapfrogging high-GWP HFCs and transitioning from ozone depleting substances known as HCFCs to no- and low-GWP alternatives. This decreases the financial assistance through MLF required of donor countries in the long term, but increases funding needs in the short term in order to provide much needed climate mitigation in the short term.

The job is not yet done. A phase down of HFCs seems all but inevitable; however, for this to be achieved in a fair and ambitious way, the details need to be decided and the legal amendment language be agreed to. The good news is that negotiations have begun well and many of the challenges and some of the solutions have been identified. The meeting was a milestone in multilateralism as all countries in the world agreed to finally begin formal negotiations to determine ways the Montreal Protocol can expand its mandate to manage the consumption and production of HFCs.

An amendment to the Montreal Protocol phasing down these gases will lead to significant near-term climate change mitigation. It is an unprecedented opportunity to support efforts by the UN Climate Convention in protecting our planet; the Parties to the Montreal Protocol must set aside politics and adopt a global agreement on phase-down of HFCs next year. Someone said in the corridors yesterday, "If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, the body will soon follow." While this camel metaphor seems apt in Dubai, we must not forget the other climate metaphor that is applicable to climate change and tipping points: we should not wait for the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Avipsa Mahapatra is Manager, EIA Global Climate – HFC Campaign and is in Dubai for the Montreal Protocol meetings. Contact her at +1347 931 0129 or amahapatra@eia-global.org for comment and details on the final outcome of the negotiations.

For additional press inquiries, please contact Maggie Dewane, EIA Press Officer, at mdewane@eia-global.org or +1202 483 6621.

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