Nations agree on historic HFC phasedown

Nations came together Saturday and agreed to take a big bite out of future increases in global temperatures. Following nearly a decade of talks, a landmark agreement to phase down hyrofluorocarbons (HFCs) was reached at the conclusion of the 28th Meeting of the Parties of the Montreal Protocol in Rwanda.

The Kigali Amendment sets out a schedule of targets and timetables for all developed and developing countries to phase down their use of HFCs,a family of industrial chemicals used worldwide in air conditioners and refrigeration that are one of the most potent and rapidly expanding greenhouse gases.

The amendment links these control requirements with a renewed commitment by developed countries to provide financial support for developing countries through the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund. The agreement sets out key principles for how the fund will transition from supporting projects aimed at safeguarding the ozone layer to spurring action focused on climate protection.

Curbing HFCs is a relatively inexpensive way to achieve significant near-term reductions in climate pollution and is essential to achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius.  More than 100 nations came together at the recent U.N. General Assembly to press for an ambitious reduction schedule.

In the final stages of negotiations in Kigali, it was clear that only a few  countries stood in opposition. To break the logjam, the agreement provided the flexibility for reluctant developing countries (India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and the Gulf States) to meet a phasedown schedule with a baseline and reduction steps delayed by four years. It also included a separate provision for an alternative baseline and compliance schedule for Russia, Belarus and several neighboring countries. 

Phasing down HFCs offers a unique opportunity for a significant double win for the climate. HFCs themselves are a potent, fast-growing climate pollutant. Reducing HFCs can reduce global warming by as much as 0.5 degrees by the end of the century. Because they are widely used in rapidly expanding, high energy-consuming refrigeration and air conditioning sectors, the transition to alternatives also provides an opportunity to reduce climate change through enhanced energy efficiency. 

The Kigali Amendment seeks to capture these benefits first through a fast start fund created by 19 philanthropic groups and individuals who have contributed $53 million to move from HFCs to more energy-efficient alternatives.

In addition, a decision reached in Kigali calls for the Multilateral Fund, in developing and supporting projects shifting to alternatives, to fund investments aimed at maintaining and enhancing energy efficiency. 

The adoption of the HFC amendment is an important accomplishment, but much work lies ahead in making a successful transition to energy-efficient, low or zero global warming alternatives. For example, hydrocarbon refrigerants and foam blowing agents represent important alternatives, but because they are flammable, changes in national and industry standards and codes will be required to ensure that they can be used safely. The Parties agreed on a decision aimed at facilitating the necessary revisions to standards and codes and supporting enhanced training of air conditioning and refrigeration technicians in the safe use of these alternatives through the Multilateral Fund.

Hydrofluorooleinfs (HFOs) are also a family of chemical substitutes to replace HFCs. India and China raised concerns  about whether patents held by transnational chemical companies on the production and use of HFOs would block their access to them. Over the coming years the availability of HFOs will need to be advanced through expanding commercial arrangements between companies, which could  be facilitated by financial support from the Multilateral Fund.

The Kigali Amendment on HFCs caps an extraordinary couple of weeks for global climate protection. Enough countries have ratified the Paris Agreement that it has already met its conditions to formally enter into force. In addition, a path-breaking agreement was reached to limit emissions from international air travel.

After years of slow and difficult global efforts to address climate change,  these recent developments demonstrate a new and stronger commitment to tackle the near and present danger of this critical threat to our global community.