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Pathway to Adoption of an HFC Amendment: Resolving Key Challenges

By Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA Climate Campaign Manager

Parties to the Montreal Protocol are meeting in Geneva this week to discuss the implementation of the Dubai Pathway on HFCs; HFCs are super greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air-conditioning. Now those of you following the Montreal Protocol story will remember where we left off last year: after slow-moving discussions for several years, in a landmark decision in November 2015, the 197 Parties of the Montreal Protocol agreed to the “Dubai Pathway on HFCs” which commits the Parties to “work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016 by first resolving challenges by generating solutions in the contact group on the feasibility and ways of managing HFCs.”

Key challenges: While the Parties are on a common pathway, they determined and discussed eight challenges to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol at the Dubai Meeting of Parties last year:

1. Relevance and recognition of the special situation of developing countries and the principles under the Montreal Protocol which have enabled sufficient additional time in the implementation of commitments by A5 countries (developing countries)

2. Maintain the Multilateral Fund (MLF) as the financial mechanism, and agree that additional financial resources will be provided by non-A5 parties to offset costs arising out of HFC management for A5 parties if obligations are agreed to

3. IPR issues

4. Flexibility in implementation that enables countries to set their own strategies and set their own priorities in sectors and technologies

5. Exemption process and a mechanism for periodic review of alternatives including the consideration of availability or lack of availability of alternatives in all sectors in A5 countries and special needs for high ambient countries

6. Relationship with the HCFC phase-out

7. Non-party trade provisions

8. Legal aspects, synergies and other issues related to the UNFCCC in the context of HFC management under the Montreal Protocol

At this week’s meeting in Geneva, it would be very critical for Parties to agree to prioritize this list and devise a process for moving forward through 2016 on the remaining challenges facing an amendment to the Protocol. Although Parties need to discuss all of these issues, substantial discussions are required on the following three key issues:

1. Finance

While it is understood that additional funding would need to be made available for A5 Parties to phase down HFCs, Parties also need to agree to a broad set of principles that will ensure sustainable climate-friendly technologies receive sufficient financial incentives to guarantee their uptake and availability to all A5 Parties on an equitable basis. Parties should encourage innovative improvements to the financial mechanism to maximize the climate benefits of an HFC phase-down. Under an HFC phase-down, it will be particularly critical to incentivize high energy efficiency of low global warming potential (GWP) alternatives as that could nearly double emissions savings.

Additionally, Parties need to make clear what incremental costs will be added to address the needs of technologies intended to combat climate change.

In April 2015, EIA and the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) held a workshop in Bangkok to examine how to position the MLF to maximize the climate benefits, both within its current efforts to phase out HCFCs and in the future event of an HFC phase-down. The workshop was attended by current and former Article 5 and non-Article 5 participants from the Montreal Protocol, along with financial, technical and legal experts; the outcome document lists a series of questions that need to be answered for resolution of this issue.

2. Exemption mechanisms

Another important issue Parties will be discussing is that of exemptions, which are being requested by countries in high-ambient regions. However, to maintain the integrity of both the HCFC phase-out and the HFC phase-down, exemptions should not be granted except where proven to be necessary to avoid further transitions to high global warming HFCs with poor energy efficiency. As with past exemptions, any new exemption should be limited in scope and time, as well as annually or periodically reviewed. The reduction of the use of HFCs is a phase-down not a phase-out as was the case with the ozone depleting chemicals. It is recognized that in some sectors HFC-free alternatives will not be commercialized for some time.

3. Relationship with the HCFC phase-out

Developing countries have just started the phase-out of HCFCs, the class of chemicals that replaced CFCs because they were less damaging to ozone layer. These countries have the option to switch directly from HCFCs to low global warming and energy efficient alternatives, instead of going from HCFCs to HFCs and then to undergo a third conversion. The Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) estimates an almost 300 percent growth in demand for high global warming HFCs in A5 Parties during 2015-2030. Parties need to work together to make smart transitions now, capturing the environmental and financial benefits by leapfrogging from HCFCs to low-GWP alternatives to the greatest extent possible in the HCFC phase-out, while agreeing to an ambitious HFC amendment and more time in those sectors where HFC-free alternatives have yet to be proven and commercialized.

The Progression of Refrigerant Gases

Countries have been transitioning from one harmful gas to another since the Montreal Protocol was first signed.

One thing that the Montreal Protocol has demonstrated over the years is that no challenge is unsolvable if there is political will. The real challenge lies in reaching consensus to overcome the list of challenges in the fastest possible manner, and that will necessitate a process wherein focused productive discussions can take place. Countries have a great opportunity to make real progress on thrashing out details on how they will phase out HFCs, which will be critical to achieve the goal set in last December’s Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise this century to well under 2 degrees Celsius.

For more details on what EIA is urging from Parties, check out our briefing and follow us on Twitter @avipsa_m and @eiaenvironment for live updates.

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