The future of hydorfluorocarbon gases — or lack thereof — may soon be revealed as the 197 Parties to the Montreal Protocol appear on the brink of unveiling a plan designed to phase down their use worldwide.
In November 2015, the Parties agreed to begin work on an amendment designed to reduce the global production and consumption of HFC refrigerants. This agreement, commonly referred to as the Dubai Pathway, took another step forward last month in Geneva as the Parties agreed to schedule additional intersessional work before the group’s next meeting in July. The Parties are hopeful to have the framework for an HFC phasedown agreement in place by the end of the year.
Supporters believe an ambitious HFC phasedown could cost-effectively avoid more than 100 billion tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent HFC emissions by 2050.
Many American government officials have praised the Dubai Pathway’s potential, including Gina McCarthy, administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who said a 2016 Montreal Protocol HFC phasedown amendment will achieve substantial greenhouse gas reductions and could avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100.
“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.”
Unwilling to wait for a global consensus, California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) is demanding action now and proposed its own statewide high-GWP (global warming potential) HFC refrigerant prohibition strategy.
The $20 million proposal seeks emission reductions through a ban on the sale of all virgin HFC refrigerants with a GWP above 2,500 beginning in 2020, exempting reclaimed or recycled refrigerants. The policy would also ban new stationary refrigeration equipment using HFCs with a GWP of 150 or more, beginning in 2020 for nonresidential and in 2021 for residential refrigerator-freezers.
CARB is now accepting public comments on the initiative and is expected to hold a vote later this year.
Of course, any form of a global HFC agreement will carry a hefty price tag, which may be its greatest barrier.
The Multilateral Fund to the Montreal Protocol (MLF) is the funding mechanism that provides developing (Article 5) countries with the funds necessary to incrementally phase out the last class of ozone-depleting fluorinated gases. Under the MLF, countries can receive up to a 25 percent premium in funding if they transition to environmentally friendly alternatives rather than HFCs.
Per multilaterfund.org, the total budget for the 2015-2017 triennium is $507.5 million; $64 million of that budget will be provided from anticipated contributions due to the Multilateral Fund and other sources for the 2012-2014 triennium and $6 million will be provided from accrued interest.
According to a November 2015 Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), a global HFC phasedown could carry a price tag of more than $2.5 billion. Without a doubt, participating Article 5 countries would be subject to extraordinary provisions and subsidies for such a large endeavor to work.
YAY OR NAY?
However, commitments from developing countries continue to lag behind. And standoffish countries like China, Russia, and India have yet to dedicate themselves to such a plan’s stringent requirements. And, if and when they break the rules, what consequences will occur. Who will enforce them?
Additionally, from an industry standpoint, HFCs are just one part of the equation. The energy efficiency of the equipment is important, too. If equipment that uses natural refrigerants or hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) ends up operating more inefficiently than equipment that uses HFCs, conforming businesses and the industry as a whole will have endured a great deal of pain and expense for little to no return.
And, many believe there’s no proof that humans are influencing the atmosphere. From that standpoint, legislators and efficiency aficionados may accomplish more with this $2.5 billion if they simply piled it in a pit, burned it, and watched it all go up in smoke.
So, is an HFC phasedown policy possible? Yes, though it won’t come easy or cheap. And, in a world where so many have so little, its importance is certainly up for debate.
Finally, one additional speed bump remains: Republicans typically oppose funding climate change initiatives. What happens if a conservative is elected president this fall? Would the U.S. instantly yank its support from such a pact? Is all this work being done for naught?
Publication date: 5/16/2016