Even though the possible phase-down of HFCs factored into some discussions at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this past December in Copenhagen, the lack of meaningful results at the two-week international event did little to clarify those refrigerants’ future.

A scan of reports and blogs concerning the so-called Copenhagen Accord used comments like “a political statement, not a legally binding treaty,” “a climate circus,” and “clearly (falling) short of the grand scheme envisioned.”

United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the accord “a weak agreement” but said it was “a first step toward a new alliance to overcome the enormous challenges of climate change.” He said the Copenhagen deal requires countries to submit pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of January, but noted it is not a legal, binding agreement.

United States President Obama attended the conference for one day and at a plenary session said, “I’m confident that America will fulfill the commitments we have made; cutting our emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020 and more than 80 percent by 2050, in line with final legislation.” He also said the United States would “engage in a global effort to mobilize $100 billion” annually in financing for climate-related aid to developing countries.

However, it appeared such efforts Obama was advocating were tied in with existing climate change legislative efforts within the United States, particularly Waxman-Markey, which continues to make slow progress in Congress.

“For all his usual fine words, he seemed to (be) admitting defeat on the prospects of a meaningful deal (at Copenhagen) and there were no new announcements,” said the Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom.

In an evaluation of the Copenhagen event, Scott Barrett, professor of natural-resource economics at Columbia University said, “Failure by the U.S. Congress to pass climate legislation hindered progress in Copenhagen. What effect will Copenhagen have on the United States? It seems likely that the case for U.S. action has been harmed. Congress will not want the nation to adopt controls that are out of sync with those adopted by many other countries, especially China and India.”

Barrett was one of those following climate events who maintained the HFC aspect should not be part of broader global initiatives. “A better way to negotiate would be to break up this colossal problem (of climate change) into smaller pieces, addressing each piece using the best means appropriate.

“For example, we could negotiate a separate agreement limiting the emissions of HFCs.”

Publication date:01/18/2010