Led by Low-lying Island States, "Discussion Group" Formed on HFC Phase-down Under Montreal Protocol
Islands get further support from climate vulnerable African countries
"No Need to Reinvent the Wheel"
Geneva – Working in the shadow of the global climate negotiations, which resume later this month, the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Stratospheric Ozone Layer held their annual meeting in Geneva this week, wrapping up today. First among their concerns has been how to control HFCs, factory-made super greenhouse gases that the Protocol has inadvertently encouraged companies to start using as substitutes for the chemicals the Protocol is phasing out, to the great detriment of the climate.
While China and India have remained reluctant to launch formal negotiations to phase down HFCs, the majority of Parties recognized the need for urgent action to slow climate change and agreed for the first time to establish a “discussion group” to address HFCs, a group of super greenhouse gases that are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful as warming agents than carbon dioxide.
The Africa Group supported this move. Benin delegate, Mr. Marcos Wabi, president of the group confirmed that, “The African Group welcomes further discussion of phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol."
Many countries, including South Africa and Nigeria, suggested going further, supporting a “contact group” to launch formal negotiations. South Africa noted that HFCs are amenable to a phase-down of their production and consumption, which is the approach taken by the Montreal Protocol, and suggested that the treaty was suitable for addressing HFCs. South Africa further noted that there is no need to “reinvent the wheel” by developing such a phase-down under the primary climate treaty, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which aims to reduce the downstream emissions of greenhouse gases, not to phase down their upstream production and use.
Referring to the HFC phase down proposals on the table at the negotiations, the delegate from Nigeria stated her hope that countries, would be able to, “make good progress on proposals that aim to control the emission of HFCs.”
The most impassioned plea for fast action on HFCs came from the Minister of Environment and Energy from the Republic of Maldives, Dr. Mariyam Shakeela, who stated:
It was revoltingly shocking to, to hear some countries say, that this is not the right forum to address this issue. Ladies and gentleman, for countries like Maldives, who are on the front line of climate change impacts every forum is a right forum. We have no choice. No time to spare. So please do not say that this is not the right forum to address what impacts global warming when actions that are promoted in this very forum has negative impacts on climate change affecting lives and livelihood. It is morally wrong not to acknowledge it and address it. … Montreal protocol, Ladies and gentleman, has been hailed for the tremendous climate benefits it has already achieved. Therefore, I urge those who are blind to the inherent link between ozone protection and climate change, not to turn the Montreal Protocol, to a vehicle that promotes HFCs on the premise that other UN Conventions will take care of the problem we have created here. That would be the height of irresponsibility.
The Russian Federation, recalling their early leadership on the Montreal Protocol and continuing concern for atmospheric protection, played an important role in the negotiations this week. Their suggestion to form an informal panel to discuss the HFC proposals provided the breakthrough that allowed Parties to explain their concerns and propose solutions.
Reflecting on the past and future of the agreement, Mr. Sergey Vasiliev from the Russian Federation said, “The Russian Federation is proud of its early leadership to address ozone depletion within the Montreal Protocol. We have a high opinion of the Protocol’s approach to phasing out production and consumption and its funding mechanism. Therefore, we understand Parties’ desire to use the Protocol’s experience and existing mechanisms, specifically in regulating the use of HFCs. We encourage Parties to consider how the Protocol can be used to make progress on limiting the growth in production of HFCs.”
He continued, “The Parties who have been reluctant to add HFCs are coming around with suggestions. The Russian Federation would welcome an opportunity to discuss whether a future period of freezing production and consumption of HFCs would be technically and economically feasible as a preliminary step before adoption of more specific controls to phase down and a grace period for A5 and CEIT Parties.”
Also urging action under the Montreal Protocol, Mr. Chakour Abderrahim, the head of the Moroccan delegation, said, "The phase down of HFCs under Montreal Protocol is a logical continuation of the phase-out cycle for other fluorinated gases. Understanding the urgency posed by climate change, the Kingdom of Morocco believes that the Montreal Protocol is the competent body and the suitable platform to tackle the issue of HFC production and consumption." Morocco joined the Federated States of Micronesia as co-sponsor of a formal HFC phase-down amendment.
“The Montreal Protocol is now a step closer to getting out of the old HFC technology,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “The forward looking Parties know that phasing down HFCs is not only right for climate protection, but also for their industries, which need to focus on the new replacement technologies to stay competitive.” This is especially true in light of a recent proposal to strengthen European rules on HFCs and other fluorinated gases.
Since 2011, 108 Parties to the Montreal Protocol have signed the Bangkok Declaration calling for the currently used HCFCs to be replaced with chemicals that have a low impact on global warming, rather than HFCs. In Brazil earlier this year more than a hundred heads of state signed the Rio+20 declaration, The Future We Want, supporting an HFC phase-down.
The Montreal Protocol has phased out 97% of the production and use of nearly 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODS), and set the stratospheric ozone layer on the path to mid-century recovery. Because many ODS are powerful greenhouse gases, the Protocol has also provided critical climate mitigation equivalent to 135 billion tonnes of CO2, in contrast to 5 to 10 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent under the Kyoto Protocol during its first commitment period, which ends this year.
HFCs are used in refrigeration, air conditioning and insulating foams, and are the fastest growing greenhouse gases in many countries including the US, where they grew nearly 9% between 2009 and 2010. Global growth is 10 to 15% per year.
In addition to the formal proposal to phase-down HFCs production and use from the Federated States of Micronesia and Morocco, the United States, Canada and Mexico also submitted a formal proposal. These were the starting point for the discussions this week during the annual Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.
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