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Increased Momentum Towards an HFC Phase Down

China and Brazil announcements this week help set the stage for progress at Montreal Protocol

By Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA International Climate Policy Analyst and Lisa Handy, EIA Senior Policy Advisor

This week saw significant international progress in the fight against climate change. China and Brazil, two of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, have both made significant policy announcements to curb the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—super potent greenhouse gases—in advance of the upcoming Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Paris later this month.

On Tuesday, China released its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which included a commitment to phase down one of the worst HFCs, HFC-23. This announcement reinforces U.S.-China bilateral commitments built over the last two years. For example, last week’s Strategic Economic Dialogue meetings between the two countries, focused on commitments, to phase down HFCs domestically in both countries as well as to seek an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to formalize an HFC phase down internationally.

On Wednesday, Brazil and the United States issued a joint statement in which they recognized the importance of managing HFCs and pledged “to work multilaterally in the Montreal Protocol to consider promptly amendment proposals to phase down HFCs.”

Unpacking the China Commitment on HFC-23:

As a component of its INDC, China has committed to “phase down the production and consumption of HCFC-22 for controlled uses, with its production to be reduced by 35% from the 2010 level by 2020, and by 67.5% by 2025 and to achieve effective control on emission of HFC-23 by 2020.” HCFC-22 is an ozone depleting refrigerant which also contributes to climate change. HFC-23 is a byproduct of HCFC-22 production, and is 14,800 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide (CO2). China’s announcement on HCFC-22 is in line with its existing commitments under the Montreal Protocol—the global treaty that has already successfully eliminated other ozone depleting substances similar to HCFC-22. The announcement to control emissions of byproduct HFC-23, however, represents a new commitment by China that could have a substantial impact on the global climate.

In June 2013, EIA released the report, Two Billion Tonne Climate Bomb, which exposed many Chinese and Indian production facilities that were releasing or threatening to emit HFC-23 byproduct unless they received additional financing to dispose of the chemicals. EIA estimated that this could cause the release of more than two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) into the atmosphere by 2020. Since 2013, EIA has corresponded closely with Chinese government and experts from industry associations to advocate for this issue to be prioritized. This week’s announcement will serve as the first step and we look forward to seeing China’s detailed actions toward achieving these goals.

Progress all around?

When Micronesia and the North American (United States, Canada and Mexico) amendment proposals to the Montreal Protocol were first filed, a number of countries were resistant. By early last year, only a few countries including India, Brazil, and China remained opposed to an amendment. Since then, India has filed an amendment proposal, right before the April OEWG meetings this year; and the U.S.-India Bilateral HFC Task Force is meeting next week in Delhi, for a second time this year to determine how the two countries can move faster to address HFCs. Now China has made multiple international and domestic commitments on reducing HFCs and, with this week’s most recent announcement, Brazil seems to be on board too. At the last Montreal Protocol meeting in Bangkok, the African Group emerged as a strong voice in support of tackling HFCs, overcoming resistance by a minority of countries. The United States, Canada and the members of the European Union are also taking action domestically toward reducing HFCs.

Will these announcements and actions translate into progress at the upcoming meeting in Paris later this month? Will there be a consensus to form a "contact group" to flesh out specifics of a global plan to eliminate these potent gases? Stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted.

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