October 15, 2016, was a historic day for international climate action: nearly 200 countries reached an agreement to phase out use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) at the 28th meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda. This column summarizes this historic event and its implications.
The Montreal Protocol is the international treaty designed to protect the earth’s ozone layer by requiring the phasing out of production and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), substances believed to contribute to ozone depletion, many of which also contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) production. By many accounts, the Montreal Protocol is one of the most successful international agreements ever implemented.
While the Protocol was successful in addressing ozone depleting substances, it also paved the commercial pathway for development of HFCs, the chemical substances intended to replace CFCs. HFCs, similar to the CFCs they were intended to replace, are powerful GHGs. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, HFCs can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. HFC emissions, left unchecked, could grow to the equivalent of 19% of total carbon dioxide emissions in 2050.
For this reason, signers of the Montreal Protocol believed it imperative to amend the agreement to address HFC emissions. Signers gathered in Rwanda in October with the express purpose of blunting the damage HFC emissions could cause if not curbed.
Terms of the Amendment
The amendment contains several key elements.
Flexible structure. The amendment is intended to lead to near-term action, with phaseout obligations for all countries starting with a 2024 freeze for the vast majority of Article 5 parties (i.e., developing countries that meet certain criteria, including China) and a first reduction in 2019 for most Article 2 parties (i.e., all other countries, including the United States).
Ambitious phasedown schedule. The amendment establishes a rapid pathway for the phaseout, with most Article 2 parties reducing HFCs by 10% by 2019, and by 85% by 2036 relative to production and consumption levels in 2011–2013. The majority of Article 5 parties — including China and Latin American, African, and island nations — will follow a similar trajectory, with a freeze by 2024 and then a reduction of 80% by 2045 relative to production and consumption levels in 2020–2022. Parties agreed to be flexible in meeting demands of a global HFC phasedown with respect to a small number of countries that will freeze their consumption by 2028.
Incentive for earlier action. A group of donor countries and philanthropists announced last month plans to provide $80 million in support to help Article 5 nations take early action to implement an ambitious amendment and improve energy efficiency. These funds will go to Article 5 countries that have chosen the freeze date of 2024.
Broad participation. The Montreal Protocol was the first treaty in the history of the United Nations to achieve universal ratification, and signers expect similar broad participation to continue under the amendment to address HFCs.
Enforcement and accountability. The treaty’s accountability processes ensure regular reporting and robust review; its efforts to help countries facing implementation problems come into compliance has historically enabled all countries to achieve the reductions agreed.
Multiple opportunities to increase ambition. The amendment calls for review every five years — a technical panel will assess the pace of technology development and adoption in affected sectors to allow countries to consider phasedown commitments and any needed adjustments. The Montreal Protocol has been adjusted several times to accelerate phaseout of ozone-depleting substances.
The phaseout of any class of chemicals opens the opportunity to create replacements that address the deficiencies of incumbent products and take on the challenges of new product development. The amendment paves the way for innovation of new chemistries and products to replace HFCs. Businesses will need to rise to the challenge to innovate new products to fill the void created by the phaseout, conform their operations to align with the phaseout, and begin now to find alternatives in anticipation of the phaseout.
LYNN L. BERGESON is Chemical Processing's Regulatory Editor. You can e-mail her at email@example.com
Lynn is managing director of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that concentrates on conventional, biobased, and nanoscale chemical industry issues. She served as chair of the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources (2005-2006).