HFCs: Finally Phasing Out One Man-Made Problem?

 

ECO was pleased to wake up Sunday to the news that Presidents Obama and Xi had agreed to work together to combat climate change by phasing down the super greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), under the Montreal Protocol. An agreement under Montreal could prevent emissions of 100 billion tonnes CO2e by 2050. First that great party on Saturday, and then this?!

For a while now, the EU has been busy pushing a COP decision at Warsaw that will urge Parties to begin this exact same process under the Montreal Protocol, and they are clearly excited to have China and the US in agreement. As Connie Hedegaard tweeted Saturday, “Welcome on board!” All eyes are now on the next intersessional meeting of the Montreal Protocol happening in a few weeks, hoping it will turn this political arrangement into concrete, short-term action, which must not stop at phasing down, but start phasing out with appropriate finance and technology support to developing countries.

HFCs are human-manufactured chemicals, primarily used in refrigeration, air conditioning and foam blowing, which were commercialised to replace the high-Global Warming Potential, ozone depleting, human manufactured chemicals phased out by the Montreal Protocol over the past 25 years. Yet, HFCs are also extremely harmful to the climate, with global warming potentials much higher than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, commercially available, climate friendly natural alternatives exist for most of their uses, and developed countries should ensure that these are provided to developing countries at an affordable cost to enable them to take a faster phase in.

Under the Montreal Protocol, all 197 Parties have accepted firm reduction commitments. These commitments are based on the legal principle of common but differentiated responsibilities that incorporates a grace period for developing countries and financial and technology transfer support. This allows them to implement mandated phase-out schedules after developed countries, in recognition of developed countries’ larger historical contribution to ozone depletion and developing countries’ right to continued growth and development. In addition, the Montreal Protocol has financially supported the phase-out of ozone depleting substances in developing countries through developed country contributions administered by the Multilateral Fund (MLF).

On Monday, the EU held a side event to discuss how to deliver progress on HFCs in practical terms. A far cry from some of the more theoretical debates happening elsewhere, this took a packed room through a demonstration of what the Montreal Protocol has achieved in terms of climate mitigation and technology transfer. A whopping 220 Gt CO2e have been avoided since the early 1990s alone, with the $3 billion channelled through the MLF. The message came across loud and clear: if you’re looking for bang for your buck, look no further than the Montreal Protocol. This led more than one participant to ask why we’re not using the tried and tested mechanisms already in place to get rid of these super greenhouse gases.

ECO wonders the same thing, and hopes Parties will stop their politics and get to work. ECO also calls upon developed countries to ensure that support is provided to financial and technology transfer to ensure these technologies are available at affordable costs to developing countries, and encourages a faster phase out to better technologies.

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