NGO News Desk :: Should hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) be discussed under Montreal Protocol? This is one of the key questions dividing the international community on the opening day of the 25th meeting of the Parties to the Protocol. The meeting has begun in Bangkok, Thailand, today.
HFCs are greenhouse gases. Like carbon dioxide, they cause global warming – only that a tonne of HFC causes thousand times more global warming than a tonne of carbon dioxide. There is a concern that increased consumption and emissions of HFCs from refrigerators and air-conditioners, where they are used as refrigerant gases, will lead to more global warming.
What is the HFC tug-of-war all about?
CSE climate researchers point out that over the past year, there has been increased political momentum to move the HFC discussion to the Montreal Protocol; HFCs are currently under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).The US has consistently pressured emerging economies such as China and India to open up discussions on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. To do this, it has proposed amendments to the Protocol.
Emerging economies, however, oppose this: they say that the Montreal Protocol is not the appropriate platform to discuss HFCs. There are two reasons for this:one, HFCs are already being discussed under UNFCCC; and two, the Montreal Protocol is mandated to discuss only ozone depleting substances,which HFCsare not.
But developed countries counter that the use of HFCs has increased due to the phasing-out of ozone depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrocholorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) by the Montreal Protocol. Therefore, they should be discussed under the Protocol.
Says Sunita Narain, director general, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE): “Discussing how the world is going to address HFCs is important. The Government of India should agree to set up a contact group to discuss the ‘management of HFCs’ under the Montreal Protocol. However, oweversetting up a contact group just to discuss the amendments proposed by few countries is premature.”
What is the danger?
The phase-out of CFCs began with the discovery that CFCs were causing a hole in the earth’s ozone layer. This allowed UV rays, with harmful health implications like cancer for human beings, to enter the atmosphere. Countries therefore decided to move to HCFCs as an interim solution. HCFCs were less harmful than CFCs, but still had ozone depleting potential.The deadline for developed countries to phase-out CFCs was 2000 and HCFCs is 2020; developing countries phased out CFCs in 2010 and have begun phasing out HCFCs in 2013, with a timeline until 2030.
The primary alternative to HCFCs in developed countries has been HFCs — at present, most of the HFCs are consumed in these countries. In 2010, developed countries accounted for two-thirds of all HFC emissions; the US’s was close to 30 per cent while India’s accounted for just 1 per cent of the total HFC emissions.
Says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of CSE and head of its climate change team: “It is clear that the transition from HCFCs is leading to a rise in HFC emissions. This is expected to continually increase as developing countries too begin to phase-out HCFCs.”
Currently, HFCs contribute just about 1 per cent to climate change; the maximum contribution is from carbon dioxide due to burning of fossil fuels. But it is projected that the contribution of HFCs will grow to 8-10 per cent by 2050 under a business-as-usual scenario. To arrest this growth, the world will have to phase-out HFCs and move to alternatives like hydrocarbons that have low global warming potential and also make refrigerators and air-conditioners more energy efficient.
Advises Bhushan: “Developing countries, that have still not moved to HFCs, should leapfrog to non-HFC alternatives. However, certain conditions must be satisfied to ensure an equitable transition in future. CSE has made some recommendations in this respect.”
What CSE recommends
- Invite and discuss HFC submissions from all countries under the Montreal Protocol:
The Government of India should agree to setup a contact group to discuss the management of HFCs where countries can turn in their submissions on how Montreal Protocol should address control of HFCs. Such a discussion within a formal group would ensure the discussions go beyond just the US’s proposed amendments and include the larger issue of management of HFCs, such as the finance and technology aspects of a transition.
- Developed countries should phase out HFCs by 2017-2020: Developed countries cannot be allowed to phase down HFCs until the mid-2030s, as the existing US proposal suggests. CSE proposes that the developed countries should phase out HFCs between 2017 and 2020, and begin working towards it today. This will have the additional advantage of opening up the market for alternatives and new environment-friendly technologies for developing countries to leapfrog to.
- Developing countries should leapfrog to non-HFC alternatives: Developing countries should not follow the chemical treadmill adopted by developed countries. Instead of moving to HFCs from HCFCs, developing countries should make a one-time transition from HCFCs to non-HFC alternatives like hydrocarbons.
- Reform the Multilateral Fund: The Multilateral Fund (MLF) which pays for the technical and financial assistance needed by developing countries to control substances under the Montreal Protocol, needs to be reformed. While the MLF has been effective in ensuring timely phase-out in the past, its current design does not support a transition that assists in leapfrogging.
- Differentiation between developed and developing countries under Montreal Protocol should remain: Of late, there has been increasing discussion on blurring the differentiation between developed and developing countries. Under the Montreal Protocol, developed countries are mandated to support developing countries’ transition through financial assistance, but increasingly developing countries are being asked to voluntarily put money into the MLF. Says Narain: “This cannot be allowed. Such discussions would serve to only further alienate developing countries from the HFC phase-out, where a key demand of theirs is the reliable and sufficient provision of finance and technology from developed countries.”
- Discuss the family of fluorinated gases under the Montreal Protocol, not just HFCs: HFCs are part of the larger family of fluorinated gases that cause global warming. F-gases include HFCs, perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). They all are potent greenhouse gases and some are used as replacements for ozone-depleting substances. NF3, used to make microelectronics, including solar photovoltaic cells, for instance has a global warming potential of 17,200. This means that NF3 is 17,200 times more potent than carbon dioxide. These gases are expected to grow significantly. An approach that addresses only HFCs and overlooks the other super greenhouse gases is a piecemeal solution — all the F-gases, therefore, must be discussed under the Montreal Protocol.
- Resolution at UNFCCC needed to move HFCs to Montreal Protocol: Any move to shift HFC discussion to Montreal Protocol should be duly agreed to by countries under the UNFCCC.