HFC negotiations under the Montreal Protocol inch forward

31 July 2015

Parties to the Montreal Protocol began substantive discussions on four proposals outlining various approaches to phase down global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions during a meet held in Paris, France from 20-24 July.

The thirty-sixth meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer – as these talks are formally dubbed  reportedly moved quickly through other agenda items in order to focus on tackling HFCs.

While no agreement was reached on how to move forward, delegates clarified aspects of each of the tabled proposals for amending the Montreal Protocol to manage HFCs, the first from a coalition of North American countries, the second by India, the third from the 28 member-states of the European Union, and the fourth supported by multiple island nations.

“There is opportunity in this diversity, with delegates now able to pick and choose components from each so that they can create an amendment that balances parties’ different concerns,” one delegate told Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) commenting on the state of play in the talks.

Some environmentalist groups, however, said the process remained too slow. “It is extremely frustrating that after another week of discussion we are yet to start formal negotiations,” said Clare Perry, head of climate at advocacy group the Environmental Investigation Agency, following the conclusion of the meet.

Sticking points during the July talks included baselines and timelines for HFC phase out; financing and technical assistance for developing countries, referred to as Article 5 countries in the text; and the role of technology transfer and intellectual property rights in finding and distributing HFC alternatives.

Montreal success

First signed in 1987, the Montreal Protocol is an international treaty that has successfully protected the ozone layer by controlling ozone-depleting substances (ODS) since it entered into force in 1989. The Protocol uses trade measures to achieve its goal by banning trade with non-parties in products containing ODSs.

The Protocol has adopted four amendments since its ratification in order to cover some 96 ODSs including chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs). The emergence and increased use of HFCs, however, is thought to have resulted from the phasing-out of HCFCs as the former work as a suitable substitute.

While HFCs do not have an impact on the ozone layer, they have a substantial global warming potential, and thus contribute significantly as a greenhouse gas (GHG) driving climate change. Used primarily as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners, the most common of these gases is estimated to be 1430 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

However, countries have been divided over the years on the best avenue for tackling HFCs, whether in the climate talks or under the Montreal Protocol. (See BioRes, 27 November 2014)

New challenges

Consensus on forming a so-called “contact group” to tackle HFCs under the Montreal Protocol began to emerge in the July talks, with several nations shifting stance and outlining constructive recommendations, according to media reports. However, all attempts to reach agreement on next steps were blocked by Pakistan at the end of the meet, citing concerns that HFC substitutes will not work in its hot climate.

In order to conclude the informal discussions on the formation of a contact group, delegates agreed to hold an additional session of the OEWG prior to the annual meeting of the parties, due to be held from 1-5 November in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, India, and Pakistan have traditionally opposed tackling HFCs under the Montreal Protocol and have instead pushed for work to be undertaken through the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that only mandates emissions cuts from developed countries only until the end of the decade.

However, India renounced its former position this past spring and signalled that HFCs should be regulated under the Montreal Protocol, putting forward a proposal to that end in a surprise move to many environmental groups. (See BioRes, 24 April 2015)

Meanwhile, G7 nation leaders in June called on Montreal Protocol parties to negotiate an amendment by the end of this year to phase down HFCs, and for donors to help developing countries with the implementation.  

Timelines for phase outs, differentiation

During the plenary session, parties questioned, clarified, and compared the elements of the four amendment proposals including the different baseline options, reduction schedules, and level of ambition for developing versus developed countries.

Mexico, the US, and Canada’s North American proposal covers 19 HFCs and encourages a gradual phasedown starting in 2019 with a plateau by 2036 at a target level of 85 percent cuts relative to an established baseline, as opposed to a total phase out. Article 5 countries would plateau HFC emissions ten years after non-Article 5 countries.

The EU proposal, meanwhile, would also see developed countries start cutting HFCs in 2019 and reach an 85 percent reduction by 2034. Developing countries would freeze the production of HFCs in 2019 and reach a long-term emissions reduction target by 2040 to be negotiated by 2020. The “freeze” on emissions by developing countries received pushback in July, sources said, particularly from developing countries that preferred India’s timeline for emissions reductions.

According to India’s proposed amendment, developed countries would reduce HFC production and consumption by 85 percent relative to a set baseline by 2035, while developing countries would have until 2050. Some developed countries have nevertheless labelled this as a “slow start” for developing countries.

The amendment submitted by the Island Nations including Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Palau, the Philippines, Samoa, and the Solomon Islands, sets a 90 percent reduction plateau by 2031 for developed countries compared to a calculated baseline. Developing countries would be given a six year grace period with a different baseline. The island states’ proposal also includes new ideas on utilising energy efficiency measures to reduce emissions.

Delegates raised many questions as to how baselines have been calculated by the various proposals, with each using a different methodology.

Finance, technology transfer

A majority of delegates in July agreed that the amendment for HFCs would need to include some form of support for developing countries from the financial mechanism already functioning within the framework of the Protocol, referred to as the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol (MLF).

India’s proposal calls for full conversion costs and loss of profits coverage for phasing out HFCs including capital costs, intellectual property rights (IPR), patents, technology transfer, research and development, among others.

The Asian nation has argued that this is necessary because many Annex 5 countries are still working to decrease consumption of HCFCs implying duplicate efforts if HFCs are to be tackled. A technology transfer mechanism is also outlined by Delhi under the auspices of easing developing countries transitions towards cleaner HFC chemical production plants.

Setting the stage for Paris

Some stakeholders have suggested that progress in the Montreal Protocol setting could offer a boost to UN climate talks since HFC phase down could make a substantial dent to annual greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent working paper published by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD) found that a fast phase out of HFCs by 2020 could prevent half a degree Celsius of warming by 2100, significantly contributing to the internationally agreed goal of limiting global temperature rise to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The IGSD paper also argues that efforts are best made at the multilateral level in order to avoid a “patchwork” of regional and national regulations.

Just under 200 parties to the UNFCCC will meet in Paris, France in early December to finalise a universal emissions-cutting deal that will go into effect in 2020, thereby replacing the current Kyoto Protocol.

All of the tabled proposals include a section on the relationship between the amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the UNFCCC deal, but some commentators have warned that the interaction between the two agreements will not be fully understood until more details are fleshed out.

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the Thirty-Sixth Meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer 20-24 July 2015,” IISD REPORTING SERVICES, 27 July 2015; “Pakistan blocks calls to phase out super warming HFCs,” RTCC, 27 July 2015.

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