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Montreal Protocol Shows Political Will and Boosts Climate Momentum

By Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA International Climate Policy Analyst

This November marks a series of great successes for global climate policy. The progress began with the historic climate announcement by President Obama and President Xi, as the United States and China joined the European Union in committing to new limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Also last week, countries committed real money on the table, into the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was set up to channel money from industrialized countries to vulnerable developing countries to mitigate climate change. The GCF is now over the $9 billion mark, a record amount for international climate finance, ahead of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate negotiations in Lima, Peru next month.

Also this month, over 120 countries met at the Meeting of the Parties (MOP26) to the Montreal Protocol in Paris, where among other topics, countries discussed moving towards a deal on phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Protocol.

HFCs—used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and other industrial applications—are hundreds to many thousands of times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide and were commercialized as replacements to ozone depleting substances (such as HCFCs), which are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol. However, as reiterated at EIA's well-attended side event at the MOP26, several climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs already exist.

Two proposals to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs were introduced in 2009; one, a North American proposal by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and the other sponsored by Micronesia, Morocco, and the Maldives, were met with resistance from a handful of countries such as India and China for the last five years. However, two new developments led these countries to engage in substantive discussions at the MOP26:

• Recent bilateral developments—such as agreements between President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Modi in September, as well as Obama- Xi announcement this month. Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar attended the MOP26 and publicly acknowledged the need for action against climate change. Additionally, as compared to previous years, China played a more constructive role and engaged in technical discussions of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

• The European Union introduced an alternative approach for phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, wherein developing country targets are more flexible.

However, coordinated resistance from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States blocked formal negotiations on HFCs, predicated on the need for more alternatives for hot climates, but in fact based on issues connected with the broader climate negotiations. Protracted debates eventually resulted in informal consultations on how to take the discussion of the HFC amendments forward. After hours of negotiations and a new, last-minute proposal from the Amendment proponents, the parties agreed on an accelerated schedule for talks in 2015 on HFCs, with the possibility of an extra meeting in April: a two-day technical workshop with a focus on air conditioning in hot climates, followed by three days of talks on technical and financial issues related to HFCs.

Additionally, the Parties adopted a robust replenishment for 2015-2017 which at $507.5 million USD is $92.5 million higher than the last replenishment to implement the ongoing HCFC phase out and to undertake numerous related actions such as demonstration projects in developing countries. This was critical to ensure that climate benefits are maximized during the HCFC phase out and to gain the support of developing countries to take on HFC management under the Montreal Protocol.

This meeting of the Montreal Protocol indicated that an actual agreement to phase down HFCs might be quite possible next year. By approving an HFC Workshop and a special meeting with a focus on HFCs next year, as well as robust funding for developing countries, this Montreal Protocol meeting has sent a clear signal that the international community is ready for an HFC phase down. The Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful environmental treaty, has sent an unambiguous message to upcoming climate meetings in Lima and the climate meeting in Paris next year that all countries can take meaningful climate action now. All that's needed is the political will.

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