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.

Parties agreed on the fundamental issue that the Montreal Protocol has legal jurisdiction to act and has the experience, expertise, and institutions best suited to tackling the challenge of reducing HFCs. The Dubai meeting also produced a common understanding and a path forward on a range of issues related to how to modify the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund to provide financial support to developing countries to comply with controls on HFCs and on the need to exempt uses of HFCs in high ambient temperature conditions where no viable substitutes exist.

As the fastest growing group of greenhouse gases, HFCs represent an important target in global efforts to limit climate change. It’s estimated that limiting HFCs could achieve a 0.5 degree Celsius reduction in the temperature increase due to greenhouse gases by the end of 2100 – a target well within reach of Montreal Protocol parties when they reconvene next year.

These reductions are critical to global efforts to keep temperature increases under the 2 C goal established under the UN Framework Convention. It’s estimated that national commitments to addressing greenhouse gases made in the lead up to Paris could limit temperature increases to around 2.7 C. More needs to be done, and HFC reduction under the Montreal Protocol can contribute to filling the gap.

With a final decision coming well past midnight Thursday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy led the United States’ negotiating team in finding a way forward – overcoming the concerns of India, Saudi Arabia and a small number of other countries about the availability of substitutes to replace HFCs and the adequacy and rules governing financial support.

Representing the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, I presented two papers at side events in Dubai addressing issues of concern to the negotiators. Technological Change in the Production Sector under the Montreal Protocol addressed concerns of developing countries that production of alternatives to HFCs would be limited to a few multinational corporations. A second paper, Patents and the Role of the Multilateral Fund, analyzed whether the Multilateral Fund would pay for intellectual property rights associated with substitutes for HFCs.