Montreal Protocol or Kyoto Protocol? Either Way, Phase out HFCs

While everyone’s focused on the Climate Change Summit in Durban, South Africa, which began this morning, few are aware that the 23rd annual meeting of the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty took place in Bali, Indonesia, November 21-25.

Reportedly, a strong majority of 108 countries (out of 127) supported phasing out super-greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and insulating foams. 

But heavy lobbying from the chemical industry in India and China influenced their positions, and a handful of countries  used a procedural maneuver to block concensus, according to the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

Officials from India and China argue that HFCs can only be addressed under the Kyoto climate treaty, although they also have blocked action there.

The US, Mexico and Canada submitted a proposal to phase down HFCs, including offering strong technical support. The US and Canada are donors to the Montreal Protocol fund that pays India and China and other developing countries for switching to safer alternatives. 

Donor countries offered a three-year replenishment of $445 million from 2012-14, but China blocked a consensus by demanding $25 million more. The donors said they couldn’t go higher. 

Offering this level of funding in a time of very tight budgets shows how much support their is for the Montreal Protocol, says Zaelke.

Phasing out HFCs would reduce global warming emissions many times more than the entire Kyoto Protocol.

If HFCs and other potent GHGs are eliminated quickly (black carbon, methane, ground-level ozone), the rate of global warming would be cut IN HALF, keeping global temperature rise under the dreaded 2°C through the end of the century. It would greatly slow down Arctic ice melt – by two-thirds – which is at its highest level ever this year. 

HFCs were allowed as a temporary replacement for CHFC, which were outlawed in the original Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer. CHFCs are being successfully phased out, and now HFCs are rising rapidly in the atmosphere, threatening to push the climate system past the 2°C outer limit, says  UNEP.

"HFCs present the biggest, fastest piece of climate mitigation available to the world in the next few years," says Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. "The island proposal would ensure climate mitigation equivalent to100 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050, many times more than the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty."

"Climate change is advancing faster than the policies to address it.  We’re losing ground every day and we need the Montreal Protocol to get back in the game," he says. "Very few opportunities exist to effectively target such a significant amount of mitigation, so cheaply, and with 100 percent assurance that it will get done. That’s the beauty of the Montreal Protocol. We know it will work to cut HFCs because it has already worked to phase out nearly 100 similar chemicals."

Last year, a consortium of over 400 companies, including Unilever, Tesco, Coca-Cola and Walmart, agreed to use climate-friendly refrigerants and stop using HFCs, beginning in 2015. Natural refrigeration solutions exist today, using hydrocarbons, ammonia and carbon dioxide.

Here’s the UN Environment Program report on HFCs, which includes a detailed list of available substitutes:

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