A critical opportunity to build on the Paris Agreement

International negotiators will gather in Kigali, Rwanda, next month with the goal of phasing down one of the most potent and rapidly expanding greenhouse gases affecting the climate. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrial chemicals used worldwide in air conditioners, refrigeration, foam products, and aerosols.

Momentum for taking action is building. On the sidelines of the recent U.N. General Assembly, more than 100 nations signed a declaration calling for an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to ambitiously deal with HFCs, with an early freeze date for developing countries and an early first reduction step for developed countries.

To jump start the transition away from HFCs, 16 donor nations have offered $27 million in new and additional money for use by developing countries in limiting HFC use in 2017. Donor countries are also committing to support the longer-term phase-down costs under the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.

In an unprecedented move, a group of philanthropists (19 foundations and private individuals including Bill Gates and Tom Steyer) have offered an additional $53 million to developing countries to support efforts to move from HFCs to more energy-efficient alternatives.

The business community also added its voice to that of governments and philanthropic organizations with more than 500 companies and organizations issuing a call to action in support of an ambitious agreement on an HFC phasedown in October.

Action on HFCs is the single most significant step nations can take this year to advance the goal established in the Paris Agreement of limiting global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Estimates are that an ambitious HFC amendment would reduce global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees by the end of the century. 

While momentum for an ambitious agreement this year is strong and building, it is by no means assured. Even with more than 100 nations on board, reaching an international consensus in Kigali will not be easy. 

A large number of developed and developing countries have supported a developing country freeze in HFC use beginning around 2021, but India has supported a 2030 freeze date and Gulf Cooperation Council countries proposed a 2028 freeze. 

Issues under discussion include the costs and availability of alternatives, the role and timing of patent protections, the rules governing support of projects under the Multilateral Fund, and the need for updated standards for the safe handling and use of more flammable refrigerant alternatives. While there is general support for incorporating enhanced energy efficiency into the transition away from HFCs, there are questions about the ways to achieve this objective.

Solutions are on the table for all of these issues. Given progress to date and the financial resources now available to developing countries to support an ambitious HFC amendment, agreement in Kigali is well within reach. The costs of acting to reduce HFCs are small compared to the very real and present costs of inaction to limit changes to our climate.

Advancing toward an HFC phasedown

The latest round of negotiations under the Montreal Protocol concluded late Saturday night in Vienna with key elements of an amendment to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) beginning to take shape. The progress in Vienna sets the stage for a final agreement at the Meeting of the Parties scheduled for October in Kigali, Rwanda.

Countries are now closer than ever to a historic breakthrough that can dramatically reduce the risks of global climate change.

Because they are potent greenhouse gases rapidly expanding in their use in refrigeration and air conditioning, HFCs are a critical target in international efforts to achieve the goal established under the landmark Paris Agreement of keeping temperature increases well below 2 degrees Celsius. An ambitious HFC amendment could reduce global temperatures by an estimated 0.5 degrees by 2100 compared to business as usual growth. 

The highlight of the meeting was a call to action delivered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. His appearance, along with several days of morning to late-night engagement by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, underscored the critical importance the United States places on using the HFC amendment to build on the momentum achieved in Paris. 

Two key issues were the focus of the negotiations in Vienna: the baseline (the level of HFCs from which controls are based) and timetable for limiting HFC emissions, and the guidelines for providing financial support for developing countries in meeting these obligations. While more work remains to be done before the October meeting, real progress was made on both fronts.  

The proposal for developed countries centered around setting a baseline of 2011-2013 with a 10 percent reduction from there by 2019. Most of these countries have already begun limiting HFCs though domestic regulations.

For developing countries, where HFC use is only now ramping up, a wide range of proposals was put forward. A large number of countries (African Group, Pacific Island countries, a number of Latin America countries, the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the European Union) supported a baseline of 2017-2019 with a freeze at 2021. India, China and Gulf Cooperation Countries offered less ambitious proposals. India’s proposal would allow the longest unrestricted use with a baseline of 2028-2030 and a freeze at 2031.

On funding issues, there was broad agreement on using the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund as the institution for administering financial support to developing countries. Secretary Kerry emphasized that over 75 percent of the fund’s donor base of developed countries has already publicly stated their intention to provide additional funding to implement an HFC amendment. The key points of contention relate to important details concerning what aspects of costs will be paid and over what period of years.

Despite the progress made last week, closing the deal on an HFC amendment in October will not be easy and is by no means assured. With continued U.S. leadership and a willingness among all nations to cooperate in confronting the clear and present danger of climate change, an HFC amendment in 2016 should be achievable.

Advancing toward phasing down HFCs

International negotiators made significant progress last week in Geneva at the first of several meetings this year aimed at phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

HFCs are fast growing, powerful greenhouse gases used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances in refrigeration and air conditioning, as blowing agents, and as aerosol propellants.

In a stark departure from meetings in previous years, a number of key issues essential to reaching agreement on an HFC amendment were tentatively resolved and substantial progress was achieved on others.

For example, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states had raised concerns about the lack of proven substitutes for air conditioning that are suitable for the extreme heat experienced in their countries. A proposal to allow a time-limited and geographically targeted exemption until substitutes have been demonstrated was proposed and tentatively agreed to at the meeting. (See our brief on how to structure an exemption.)

Another issue raised in the past by a number of parties concerns the potential conflict between actions on HFCs taken under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and any HFC amendment under the Montreal Protocol. In Geneva, there was broad agreement that the treaties were independent of each other, that they could be implemented in a way that would be complementary, and that an HFC amendment would not in any way require a prior authorizing act by the climate treaty.

A good deal of time was spent discussing issues related to funding associated with HFC controls in developing countries. While agreement exists that the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund would continue to be the primary vehicle for providing financial support for emission reduction projects, issues concerning guidelines detailing what projects would be funded were left unresolved. Among these issues is payment for licensing of intellectual property rights for patent-protected technologies to produce and use some of the substitute chemicals. (See our brief: Ten Myths About Intellectual Property Rights and the Montreal Protocol.)

Significant progress toward limiting HFCs under the Montreal Protocol

In an important breakthrough, parties to the Montreal Protocol meeting in Dubai have agreed to a path forward aimed at phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of highly potent greenhouse gases. This progress adds to the momentum leading up to the UN climate talks starting later this month in Paris.

HFCs, chemicals widely used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing, were developed in response to limits on ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol.

The United States and 40 other countries had put forth a range of proposals this year for phasing down HFCs. While these efforts fell short of producing a consensus amendment, extensive discussions throughout the week resulted in a path toward delivering an HFC phasedown amendment at a special, additional meeting of the parties to be held in 2016.

New commitments to reduce HFCs show leadership

The fastest growing family of greenhouse gases – extremely potent hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- aren’t going to be growing as fast in the future.

Today’s White House announcement of voluntary industry commitments to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), along with new regulations put in place over the past year, have created game-changing shifts toward more environmentally friendly alternatives.

Developed as substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the late 1980s, HFCs have become widely used worldwide in refrigerators, air conditioners, foam products, and aerosols. While they don’t contribute to ozone depletion, HFCs can trap 1,000 times or more heat in the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. This means they have a high global warming potential (GWP).

The amount of these compounds produced around the world has been growing at a rate of more than 10 percent per year. Unless controlled, emissions of HFCs could nearly triple in the U.S. by 2030. Strong international action to reduce HFCs could reduce temperature increases by 0.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, a critical contribution to global efforts to limit climate change.

The 16 voluntary industry commitments that make up today’s announcement highlight the innovation and leadership U.S. industry is showing in meeting the challenges of addressing climate change. These actions build on 22 commitments made by industry at a White House event just a year ago.