6 November 2015
As the world counts down to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of this month, the 197 parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer have agreed on a “Dubai Pathway” for controlling climate-change-inducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
The parties agreed to work together, within the Montreal Protocol, towards an HFC amendment in 2016 by first resolving challenges and generating solutions in the contact group on the feasibility and ways of managing HFCs at Montreal Protocol meetings. This outcome was agreed after extensive negotiations during the 27th Meeting of the Parties (MOP27) to the Protocol, hosted by the Government of the United Arab Emirates in Dubai from 1 to 5 November.
The parties recognized the progress made at MOP27 on discussing the challenges on feasibility and ways of managing HFCs, on issues related to flexibility of implementation, second and third stage conversions, guidance to the Executive Committee of the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, enabling activities for capacity building, and the need for an exemption for high ambient temperature countries.
Further progress still needs to be made with respect to other challenges. The parties will continue their deliberations in 2016 with a series of Open-Ended Working Group meetings and others, including an extraordinary Meeting of the Parties.
Achim Steiner, United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director, said, “Hydrofluorocarbons may not cause direct ozone damage, like the chlorofluorocarbons they replace, but many of them contribute to greenhouse emissions. In fact some estimates put their global warming impact at up to 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide. If we don’t get this genie back into the bottle quickly then, by 2050, we could be looking at as big a problem as the one we have just solved.”
Growing HFC emissions, climate benefits of phase-down
HFCs are chemicals used in air conditioning, refrigeration, foams and aerosols as replacements for many ozone-depleting substances that are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.
HFC emissions are growing rapidly, at a rate of about 7 per cent annually. If the current mix of HFCs is unchanged, increasing demand could result in HFC emissions of up to 8.8 gigatonnes carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2050. This could jeopardize the substantial climate benefits achieved through the Montreal Protocol, which has averted greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
HFC phase-down would provide a sizable benefit for the climate. It would avoid the equivalent of 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and more than 0.5°C of warming by 2050, according to a report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It would also bring significant energy efficiency benefits that past phase-outs have always catalyzed when a refrigerant was changed.
Opening the high-level segment of MOP27 on 4 November, United Arab Emirates Minister of Environment and Water, Rashid Ahmed Bin Fahad, stated that a delay in reaching an agreement on the management of HFCs would limit international efforts in reducing the effects of climate change. He urged the parties to join together to strengthen the Montreal Protocol and support climate efforts for the benefit of humanity.
Extraordinary return on investment
The Montreal Protocol had delivered an extraordinary return on investment, with an investment of $3.5 billion expected to result in global health benefits estimated at US$1.8 trillion and avoided damages to agriculture, fisheries, and materials worth US$460 billion by the middle of the century.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer adopted in 1985. The Convention and its Montreal Protocol adopted in 1987 have facilitated the phase-out of nearly 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) by about 100 per cent.
Consequently, the ozone layer is healing itself and is expected to recover by the middle of this century. The phase-out of ODSs has also reduced the potential for climate change because ODSs are greenhouse gases.
The Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol are the only global environmental treaties to achieve universal ratification, with 197 parties. In doing so, they have brought together governments, scientists, industry and other stakeholders to work in an unprecedented partnership towards a common goal.