Breaking through the Montreal Protocol stalemate

The latest working group meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Paris produced much useful discussion, but few concrete results due to limited but vocal opposition to an amendment to phase down hydrofluorcarbons (HFCs), a fast-growing, extremely potent family of global warming gases. 

Efforts to achieve an amendment at the upcoming Meeting of the Parties in November had gained considerable momentum over the past year.  Four proposals for an amendment had been submitted by India, the European Union, the Island States, and North America (Mexico, Canada and the U.S.).  Beyond those proposals, the African States also have voiced their clear support for an amendment and recent meetings between President Obama and his counterparts from Brazil, India, and China had produced joint statements in support of action on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. 

Despite support for these proposals from nearly 100 countries, the week-long meeting in Paris this month failed to reach agreement on even starting the negotiating process through the creation of a contact group.  After opposing these efforts over several meetings, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries) voiced their willingness to allow a two-stage process to move forward, but Pakistan stood firm in opposition, blocking any agreement.

In the absence of a mandate to begin negotiations, a number of sessions in Paris focused on a very useful exchange of views on issues raised by the four amendment proposals.  India, China and others identified concerns about the costs and availability of alternatives to HFCs (including concerns about obstacles created by patents), the performance of these alternatives in high ambient temperatures, the time required to address flammability concerns of some key alternatives, the importance of energy efficiency, and the need for financing through the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.

All agreed to hold another working group session prior to the November Meeting of the Parties. But time is fast running out on this year’s efforts to reach agreement on an HFC phasedown amendment.  

What can be done to break this stalemate?

In the past, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has sometimes played an active role convening senior representatives from key countries and driving needed compromise. During the early years of the Protocol, UNEP’s Mostafa Tolba was masterful in bringing key countries together to find a workable solution.  Through informal, senior-level consultations, Tolba either forged a compromise text acceptable to all, or developed his own proposals that he would offer as a way forward.

While times have certainly changed, it may be that the moment has now arrived for Achim Steiner, UNEP’s current executive director, to actively engage with senior officials from key countries with the goal of advancing efforts at bringing HFCs into the Montreal Protocol.

EPA drives shift away from potent global warming gases

As nations meet this week to work on an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- one of the most potent greenhouse gases – a U.S. program is helping to reduce domestic emissions and demonstrate to other countries that there are practical, climate-friendly alternatives.

Hydrofluorocarbons, chemicals widely used in refrigeration, air conditioning, foam blowing, and other applications, were developed to replace ozone-depleting substances (primarily chlorofluorcarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons – CFCs and HCFCs) a few decades ago. But while HFCs don’t deplete the ozone layer, they do contribute to global warming, and, without policy intervention, their use is expected to grow dramatically over time.

Information technology and sustainability

Federal agencies trying to meet tougher sustainability mandates can make significant progress toward their goals by taking advantage of more efficient data storage and other information and communication technologies.

At the NextGov Prime 2013 conference, Scott Renda of the White House Office of Management and Budget and I outlined some of the ways these technologies can lead toward a greener government that saves energy – and money.

Slow progress on limiting HFCs

Those encouraged by the recent high-level pronouncements by President Obama and China's President Xi at the G-20 favoring action to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol came away from the 25th Meeting of the Parties last week in Bangkok disappointed. 

A number of developing countries led by India blocked efforts to establish a formal “contact group,” an important step toward negotiating an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs, which are highly potent greenhouse gases.

Instead, the parties opted to continue exploring the issue in a less formal “discussion” group. They also asked their Technical and Economic Advisory Panel (TEAP) to prepare a report on the technical, legal, and financial management of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, and agreed to hold a workshop on HFCs in the margins of the next negotiating session in 2014.

Efforts to limit aviation emissions advance at ICAO

The United Nations’ body that oversees civil aviation has reached an important milestone in international efforts to craft effective and equitable solutions to climate change from this fast-growing sector. And this success last week in Montreal should send a hopeful signal to other UN organizations as they grapple with the challenges of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

At the 38th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), governments endorsed a comprehensive set of actions aimed at achieving an aspirational mid-term goal of zero carbon emissions growth for the aviation industry beginning in 2020. The October 4 accord brings together a number of measures being developed by ICAO, including: a certification requirement for a global CO2 efficiency standard for aircraft; support for an updated, more efficient air traffic control regime; continued development of sustainable biofuels; and updating national action plans laying out country strategies to reduce emissions.