Nearly 200 countries struck a landmark deal in Kigali on 15 October 2016 to reduce the emissions of powerful greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), in a move that could prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of this century.
The amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer endorsed in Kigali is the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year.
The Kigali Amendment comes only days after two other climate action milestones: sealing the international deal to curb emissions from aviation and achieving the critical mass of ratifications for the Paris climate accord to enter into force.
Commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances, HFCs are currently the world’s fastest growing greenhouse gases, their emissions increasing by up to 10 per cent each year. They are also one of the most powerful, trapping thousands of times more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2).
The rapid growth of HFCs in recent years has been driven by a growing demand for cooling, particularly in developing countries with a fast-expanding middle class and hot climates. The Kigali amendment provides for exemptions for countries with high ambient temperatures to phase down HFCs at a slower pace.
Phase down schedule
Adopted in 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is the most successful UN environmental agreement in history. It has led to a 98 per cent decrease in the production and use of ozone-damaging chemicals, helping the ozone layer to start recovering, saving an estimated two million people each year by 2030 from skin cancer and contributing to mitigating climate change.
Following seven years of negotiations, the 197 Montreal Protocol parties reached a compromise, under which developed countries will start to phase down HFCs by 2019. Developing countries will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024, with some countries freezing consumption in 2028.
By the late 2040s, all countries are expected to consume no more than 15-20 per cent of their respective baselines.
Financing and alternatives to HFCs
Countries also agreed to provide adequate financing for HFCs reduction, the cost of which is estimated at billions of dollars globally. The exact amount of additional funding will be agreed at the next Meeting of the Parties in Montreal, in 2017. Grants for research and development of affordable alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons will be the most immediate priority.
Alternatives to HFCs currently being explored include substances that do not deplete the ozone layer and have a smaller impact on the climate, such as ammonia or carbon dioxide. Super-efficient, cost effective cooling technologies are also being developed, which can help protect the climate both through reducing HFCs emissions and by using less energy.
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Paul Manning is a certified specialist in environmental law. He has been named as one of the World’s Leading Environmental Lawyers by Who’s Who Legal: 2016.
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