Even though many see it as a “complicated addendum” to the Montreal Protocol, will the recent Kigali climate conference save our planet from global warming HFCs?
By: Ringo Bones
Delegates meeting in Kigali, Rwanda resulted in more than 150 countries reaching a deal described as “monumental” to phase out refrigerant gases that are making global warming worse. The delegates accepted a complex amendment to the Montreal protocol that will see richer countries cut back their HFC use from 2019. Some developing countries like China, nations in Latin America and island states will freeze their use of HFCs from 2024. Other developing countries, specifically India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states will not freeze their use until 2028 while China, the world’s largest producer of HFCs, will not actually start to cut their production or use until 2029. But given that HFCs is a thousand times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide generated from power plants that exacerbate global warming – why the delay in curbing their commercial use in order to limit global temperature rise?
The Montreal Protocol was originally an international treaty designed to protect the environment against the impact of harmful substances – specifically CFC based refrigerant that causes ozone layer depletion. It was created back in 1987 following the discovery of a large hole in the Earth’s ozone layer over Antarctica during the 1970s. The Montreal protocol came into force in 1989 with the main aim of ending the use of chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. During the 1990s, CFCs were rapidly replaced by a less ozone depleting class of chemical refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons of HFCs. A new amendment of the Montreal Protocol was proposed around 1998 after scientists discovered that, while HFCs pose no threat to the ozone layer, HFCs contribute to global warming by trapping heat radiating off the Earth into space. The Montreal Protocol has undergone a number of revisions since it was introduced and has been successful in eliminating more than 100 fluorinated gases.
If realized, the latest Montreal Protocol amendment reached in the recent Kigali Climate Conference on a staged HFC phase out would eventually result in reducing projected global temperature rise by 0.5 degrees Celsius before the end of the 21st Century while the Paris Climate Agreement signed by over 190 countries last December would serve the bulk of reducing carbon dioxide emissions that would ultimately reduce global temperature rise below 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st Century. If realized, it would also reduce catastrophic sea level rise that would affect low-lying island states near the end of the 21st Century.