Montreal Protocol Amendment to Phase Down HFCs Set for 2019 Start

23 November 2017

A landmark agreement to phase down climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer will enter into force on 1 January 2019 after passing the ratification threshold on 17 November.

Sweden helped cross this threshold by becoming the twentieth country to ratify the Kigali Amendment, named after the Rwandan capital where the historic deal was reached in October 2016 following seven years of intense negotiations. (See Bridges Weekly, 20 October 2016)

“This is a big step forward for climate action and a sign that positive global environmental action is delivering results,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

The milestone was reached as countries were wrapping up their annual UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and as they prepared to return to Montreal, Canada, for meetings under the Montreal Protocol and a celebration of the accord’s 30th anniversary. (See Bridges Special Update, 19 November 2017)

The 1987 landmark treaty is credited with saving the ozone layer and preventing even greater global warming by phasing out most emissions from ozone-destroying substances. These emissions often double up as extremely powerful heat-trapping gases.

While HFCs pose no harm to the ozone layer, they are a byproduct of the protocol’s success, having been considered a suitable alternative coolant to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which are phased down under the accord. However, HFCs have a warming potential of hundreds, potentially even thousands, of times greater than carbon dioxide, and the increasing demand for air conditioning and fridges makes them one of the world’s fastest growing greenhouse gas, expanding at a rate of 10-15 percent annually.

The Kigali Amendment is estimated to prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius in global warming above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

“Today – on the final day of the COP23 – we crossed the threshold required for the Amendment to enter into force in 2019. The fact that this has been achieved in just over a year since the Amendment was adopted in Kigali is a massive political signal of our determination to phase down HFCs, and of our commitment to a multilateral approach to tackling climate change,” reads a statement by the High Ambition Coalition, a diverse group of 35 countries formed at the Paris climate summit in 2015 to drive tougher climate action.

COP23 refers to the twenty-third Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – in other words, this year’s Bonn climate conference.

Implementing the Kigali Amendment

Countries will have to phase down HFCs gradually by more than 80 percent over a 30-year period. Under the deal, nations have been split into four groups, with two options for developed economies and two options for developing economies, also referred to as “Article 5 parties” under the Montreal Protocol.

These groupings, a departure from the traditional two-tiered “developed” and “developing” country approach, are meant to reflect the more nuanced differences between nations, particularly their varying economic circumstances, reliance on HFC technologies, and the cost of alternative technologies.

The majority of wealthy countries will start cutting HFCs from 2019, consuming no more than 15 percent of their 2011-2013 averaged baseline emissions by the year 2036. Five countries – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan – will begin their phase down process one year later and at a slower rate, before catching up to reach the same 2036 target.

Meanwhile, most Article 5 countries will freeze growth in 2024, before making cuts in 2029. They are to consume no more than 20 percent of their 2020-2022 averaged baseline emissions by the year 2045.

A subset of Article 5 countries will freeze growth in 2028, before phasing down HFCs in 2032, consuming no more than 15 percent of their 2024-2026 averaged baseline emissions by 2047. This group includes Bahrain, India, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Experience with the implementation of previous amendments has shown that transitions from controlled substances to new alternatives have often been completed ahead of schedule and some commentators suggest that this pattern may hold for the phase down of HFCs.

To ease the transition away from HFCs, countries will receive support through the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund. Details for the fund’s support are among the items up for discussion at this week’s meeting in Montreal.

Trade and investment incentives

The HFC amendment means that companies that produce and use coolants in their products will have to come up with alternative technologies in order to gain access to a new global market for replacement coolants and continue to participate in the growing market for refrigerators and air conditioning.

“That’s a powerful signal to the market that they better continue to adjust their investment decisions and their production to meet the standards under this amendment,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, in comments to the New York Times. The institute is a Washington-based group working on environmental law, just societies, and sustainability.

The incentive for countries to ratify and comply with the Kigali Amendment is strong. Following the Montreal Protocol’s practice of restricting trade in controlled substances between parties and non-parties, the amendment foresees implementing trade restrictions on HFCs with non-parties by 2030, provided that at least 70 countries have ratified the deal.

The protocol’s trade element is an innovative feature that has ensured universal support for the accord and all its amendments until now.

The US is not among the 21 countries which have ratified the Kigali Amendment to date. While US President Donald Trump has announced his country’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement by 2020, he has so far not issued a detailed public stance on the Montreal Protocol. Unlike many other global climate treaties, the Montreal Protocol has long enjoyed bipartisan support within the United States, with the original version signed under then-US President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

Moreover, the US is among the world’s biggest producers of HFCs. Failure to ratify the amendment may therefore have important trade repercussions, with the US facing restrictions on trade in HFCs and missing out on the new market for alternative coolants.

Montreal gathering

This week delegates and environment ministers are in Montreal for the joint 11th Conference of the Parties to the Vienna Convention and the 29th Ministerial Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (MOP29). The conference opened on Monday 20 November and is set to conclude by Friday 24 November.

Countries will discuss a range of issues, including the next three-year funding package under the Multilateral Fund to support countries in their phase-down commitments, the Kigali Amendment, the phase-out of HCFCs, energy efficiency  for appliances using controlled substances, and safety standards relevant to low-global-warming potential alternatives.

Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who was in Montreal on 20 November to mark the 30-year anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, commented in a statement that “Kigali will deliver new momentum to the world’s efforts to avoid dangerous global warming and accelerate clean growth.”

ICTSD reporting; “Montreal Protocol celebrates another milestone as agreement to reduce climate-warming gases is set to enter into force in 2019,” UN ENVIRONMENT, 20 November 2017; “McKenna says amendment signed to Montreal Protocol,” CBC News, 20 November 2017; “Treaty to Phase Out ‘Greenhouse Gasses on Steroids’ to Enter Force,” THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 November 2017; “Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol enters into force in 2019,” THE NEW TIMES, 19 November 2017.

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