The end is near for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
The 197 Parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed to begin work on an amendment that will reduce the global production and consumption of HFCs at the 27th Meeting of the Parties (MOP), held Nov. 1-5 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The amendment, deemed the “Dubai Pathway,” is expected to be completed in 2016 and puts to rest an ongoing discussion regarding HFC usage that’s persisted among Montreal Protocol members for more than five years.
The adopted decision establishes a set of additional meetings where the parties will begin finalizing the amendment. Meetings will focus on financing, flexibility for countries in respect to specific needs and circumstances, consideration for countries that have already converted to HFCs to meet existing Montreal Protocol requirements, and more. Participating countries agreed that all future discussions will be structured through a newly formed contact group in hopes of progressing as efficiently as possible.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), HFC emissions are growing at a rate of about 7 percent annually. If the current mix of HFCs is unchanged, increasing demand could result in HFC emissions of up to 8.8 gigatons of CO2 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 tons of carbon dioxide.
According to a report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, an HFC phasedown would avoid the equivalent of 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide and more than 0.5°C of warming by 2050.
“Many parties, including the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Island States, and the 54 countries of the Africa Group, wanted to move faster with the details this week, but Gulf States and India demanded a delay on details until after COP 21 in Paris next month,” said Durwood Zaelke, president, Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), who participated in the Dubai negotiations. “If there’s a silver lining to this slow deliberation, it’s that the parties will be able to implement a strict phasedown schedule much faster than usual.”
The Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy (ARAP) commended the decision by the world’s governments.
“It’s significant that the parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed to deal with greenhouse gas emissions from HFCs under the Protocol in a way that ensures sound technology review and important considerations for developed and developing countries alike,” said John Hurst, vice president of government affairs and communication for Lennox Intl. Inc., who also serves as chairman of the ARAP.
Alliance member companies, which represent more than 95 percent of U.S. HFC production and a significant majority of the manufacturing and other user industries, have pledged their commitment toward the research, development, and commercialization of new low-GWP technologies and are supporting a global agreement to facilitate the orderly transition to such technologies.
“We are technology companies whose products provide comfort, health, food safety, and increased productivity,” Hurst said. “While HFCs have allowed us to phase out of ozone-depleting substances, we recognize there is concern if their uses were to grow unabated around the globe. We’re working rapidly to set the stage for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which we believe can most effectively promote the availability of low-GWP replacement compounds and technologies.”
The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) also applauded the decision to work toward an amendment in 2016 to include HFC refrigerants in the treaty’s purview with a goal of working toward a schedule to phase down their use across the globe.
“Even as other Montreal Protocol signatories have debated the original North American proposal to include HFCs, AHRI’s member companies, including refrigerant producers and original equipment manufacturers, have been proactively researching potential alternatives to HFCs to ensure that air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturers have access to appropriate refrigerants,” said Stephen Yurek, president and CEO, AHRI.
AHRI is managing a research program, known as the Low-Global Warming Potential Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Program (Low-GWP AREP), which has been underway since 2011. Subsequent to the results of the program, AHRI established a committee to investigate flammable refrigerants that are being considered as alternatives to high-GWP refrigerants, such as HFCs.
“This is a revolutionary agreement, and we are looking forward to being part of the process of developing an amendment in 2016,” said Yurek.
Francis Dietz, AHRI’s vice president of public affairs, added: “What this agreement does — or at least has the potential to do — is provide some predictability going forward, and that is huge in manufacturing. Our members can look at the phasedown schedule (when it’s completed) and know when they’ll have to take certain actions or have certain things accomplished. It’s much better for planning purposes than having different countries and regions around the world coming up with their own regulations and schedules.”
According to Gina McCarthy, administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs will achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions and could avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100.
“Reaching an agreement on this decision by the parties will pave the way to help all countries transition to alternatives and away from HFCs,” she said. “It’s a significant accomplishment for climate action... and sends a strong signal that the international community can come together to confront some of the world’s greatest environmental challenges and continue progress toward cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement opens a new chapter in the fight against climate change.
“Together, [countries around the world] have agreed on a way forward to address the rapidly growing use and production of harmful hydrofluorocarbons, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that plays a major role in driving global climate change,” Kerry said. “This is a major accomplishment. The progress in Dubai indicates that the world is ready for a new chapter in the fight against climate change. In agreeing to address HFCs together, we’ve laid the groundwork for even greater cooperation toward a successful outcome [at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference] in Paris, and the entire planet will be better off for it.”
Next year will likely see a series of meetings to work out the details of the amendment, including an extraordinary Open-Ended Working Group meeting and Meeting of the Parties.
The Montreal Protocol treaty was first signed on Sept. 16, 1987, and is widely considered to be one of the most-effective multilateral environment treaties ever negotiated. It’s the only treaty in the United Nations system to which every country is a signatory.
Publication date: 11/23/2015