An international accord designed to address the growing hole in the ozone layer may take on new significance in the effort to reduce the emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases. It just won't be happening this year.
An effort to expand the Montreal Protocol to include the industrial chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) fell apart late last week in Bangkok as negotiators from a small block of developing countries were unwilling to sign on to a declaration that would have begun that process (see declaration below).
"So at one level, it appears that the HFC deadlock from last year continues unchanged," writes David Doniger at NRDC Switchboard. But the growing support for curbing HFCs made evident by the 91 countries that signed on to a declaration at the close of the meetings in Bangkok was enough to make Doniger and others hopeful.
Found in appliances all over the world, HFCs are greenhouse gasses thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.
HFCs are currently covered under the UNFCC, but considering the successful record the Montreal Protocol has had in eliminating the use of dozens of ozone-harming chemicals, many believe that expanding Montreal to include HFCs offers the best hope for significant international movement on climate for the immediate future.
“Eliminating HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the single biggest chunk of climate protection we can get in the next few years,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, an organization that has been pushing hard to expand the scope of the Montreal Protocol to include HFCs.
Not only would expanding the ozone treaty into climate protection be the most politically viable route on the table right now, a new report (pdf) says using existing mechanisms put in place by the Montreal Protocol to produce reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is more cost-effective than any other international plan.
Despite widespread acceptance of the proposal by both governments and industry alike, a group of countries including China, India and Brazil, were uncomfortable with expanding the scope of the treaty this year, arguing that the timetable for transition was too rapid and that payments from wealthy nations for eliminating the refrigerant are not high enough.
But with 91 countries signing on to the declaration, the good news is that significant progress was made over last year.
"[T]he North American and island countries have worked diplomatically both to gain supporters and to engage China and India," writes NRDC's Doniger. "While India has remained inflexible, key Chinese officials have signaled that curbing HFCs is an issue they can discuss."
Full text of the HFC declaration by the 91 parties:
Declaration on the Global Transition Away From Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
Recognizing that hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are replacements for ozone depleting substances (ODS) being phased out under the Montreal Protocol, and that the projected increase in their use is a major challenge for the world’s climate system that must be addressed through concerted international action,
Recognizing also that the Montreal Protocol is well-suited to making progress in replacing hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) with low-GWP alternatives,
Mindful that certain high-GWP alternatives to HCFCs and other ODS are covered by the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol and that action under the Montreal Protocol should not have the effect of exempting them from the scope of the commitments contained thereunder,
Interested in harmonizing appropriate policies toward a global transition from HCFCs to environmentally sound alternatives,
Encourage all Parties to promote policies and measures aimed at selecting low-GWP alternatives to HCFCs and other ODS,
Declare our intent to pursue further action under the Montreal Protocol aimed at transitioning the world to environmentally sound alternatives to HCFCs and CFCs.
Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Austria, Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovinia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Columbia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Estonia, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Micronesia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saint Lucia, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States of America, Vietnam
Photo: Ferran Nogués