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MEA Bulletin

Guest Article

Tuesday, 28 August 2007


By Donald Kaniaru, Rajendra Shende, Scott Stone and Durwood Zaelke

Strengthening the Montreal Protocol to accelerate the phase-out of HCFCs will speed recovery of the ozone layer. It also will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and delay reaching the tipping point for abrupt climate change—a tipping point that may be only 10 years away and that will lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts that will hit hardest on the world’s poor.2

The Montreal Protocol is widely recognized as the world’s most effective international environmental treaty, successfully phasing out about 95% of global production of CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances and placing the ozone layer on a path to recovery later this century.

In addition to depleting the ozone layer, CFCs are also potent greenhouse gases, thousands and, in some cases, tens of thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the planet.

As a result, their phase-out under the Montreal Protocol has resulted in extraordinary benefits to the climate, reducing emissions by 135 billion tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (GtCO2-eq.) between 1990 and 2010.3 This is delaying radiative forcing by up to 12 years. If efforts during the 1970s to limit CFCs in response to the ozone warning of Drs. Mario Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland are taken into account, the delay in radiative forcing is 35-41 years.

Accelerating the HCFC phase-out in a way that promotes energy efficiency and climate change objectives could reduce emissions by 17.5 to 25.5 GtCO2-eq. by 2050 and further delay climate change.4 This is significant when compared with the reductions expected under the Kyoto Protocol during its first commitment period from 2008 to 2012.5

The climate reductions actually realized depend upon the successful management of the transition out of HCFCs and into substitutes that have zero or low Global Warming Potentials (GWPs). This requires policy leadership and active management of the transition, including a focus on improving energy efficiency in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, as the climate emissions from the energy use can be up to 80-90% of the environmental impact, under a Life Cycle Climate Performance analysis.

To date, there has been strong support for an accelerated HCFC phase-out. Developed countries are signaling a willingness to provide financial assistance to developing countries through the Multilateral Fund and to explore how to leverage additional financial resources to help cover any additional costs of using zero and low GWP substitutes and technologies to replace HCFCs.

At this year’s G8 Summit, the G8 countries committed to accelerating the HCFC phase-out “in a way that supports energy efficiency and climate change objectives,” further recognizing that “[i]mproving energy efficiency worldwide is the fastest, the most sustainable and the cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance energy security… .”6

Developing countries also are expressing support for the accelerated HCFC phase-out, acknowledging both the environmental and economic benefits of making the transition into zero and low GWP substitutes and more energy efficient equipment, provided that financial assistance is made available through the Multilateral Fund.

This consensus on HCFCs was evident at the mid-year Open-Ended Working Group meeting in Nairobi in June 2007, where the Parties recognized a “clear need to accelerate the timetable for the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances, in particular HCFCs.”7 

Despite this momentum going into the 20th Anniversary Meeting of the Parties in Montreal in mid-September, reaching consensus on an accelerated HCFC phase-out presents challenges to the Parties. Key issues include how aggressive the accelerated phase-out should be, how to promote climate-friendly substitutes and energy efficiency through the proposed “superior/significant environmental benefits” provision or otherwise, and how to develop additional funding sources to cover any extra costs to secure maximum energy efficiency and other climate benefits.

But the history of the Montreal Protocol has been to meet such challenges with confidence, and to continuously strengthen and improve the treaty. Indeed, the first negotiations for the Montreal Protocol occurred in just three one-week sessions over a nine-month period, in a context with great uncertainty about the theory of ozone destruction and empirical confirmation that came too late to influence the negotiations, with no knowledge of substitutes or alternatives, and with no funding mechanism yet developed.8 

What the Parties did have was leadership and confidence that they needed to take a precautionary approach to address a serious global problem. Against all odds, they succeeded in reaching consensus on what has become the world’s most successful environmental treaty.

The challenge today is actually easier than past challenges faced by the Montreal Protocol, while the stakes are even higher—with the tipping point for abrupt climate change as close as ten years away.  Agreeing on an adjustment that promotes energy efficiency and climate change benefits will mark the first time that both developing and developed countries accept binding international commitments to mitigate climate change, as well as to protect the ozone layer. 

Full articles at http://www.igsd.org/about/publications/FAQFinal16July.pdf and http://www.igsd.org/about/publications/Strengthening-the-Montreal-Protocol-Mar2007.pdf.

1 Adapted from Donald Kaniaru, Rajendra Shende, Scott Stone & Durwood Zaelke, Frequently Asked Questions: Strengthening the Montreal Protocol by Accelerating the Phase-Out of HCFCs at the 20th Anniversary Meeting of the Parties in The Montreal Protocol: Celebrating 20 Years of Environmental Progress – Ozone Layer and Climate Protection, Donald Kaniaru, ed. (forthcoming 2007) at http://www.igsd.org/about/publications/FAQFinal16July.pdf.

2 Mario Molina, “The ozone treaty can do much more for the planet,” Financial Times (24 August 2007) available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ad5a4ba2-51da-11dc-8779-0000779fd2ac.html. See also James Hansen Scientific Reticence and Sea Level Rise, Environ. Res. Lett. 2 (2007) at http://www.iop.org/EJ/article/1748-9326/2/2/024002/erl7_2_024002.html.

3 Guus J. M. Velders, et al., The Importance of the Montreal Protocol in Protecting Climate, 104 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 4814 (2007) at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/104/12/4814.

4 Donald Kaniaru, Rajendra Shende, Scott Stone, & Durwood Zaelke, Strengthening the Montreal Protocol: Insurance Against Abrupt Climate Change, 7 Sustainable Development Law & Policy 3 (2007) at http://www.igsd.org/about/publications/Strengthening-the-

5 The required emissions reduction under the Kyoto Protocol is ‑5.8 percent of its baseline of 18.4 GtCO2-eq. or ‑0.97 GtCO2‑eq yr‑1 by 2008–2012.  UNFCC, Key GHG Data: Highlights from Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data for 1990-2003 (Nov. 2005). This translates to an aggregate emissions reduction of 5 GtCO2-eq. The actual emissions reduction under Kyoto Protocol is expected to be about 10 GtCO2-eq., in aggregate, if avoided emissions based on a business-as-usual trajectory of 6% growth over that timeframe are considered.

6 G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, Growth and Responsibility in the World Economy, Summit Declaration (7 June 2007), at paragraphs 59 & 46 at http://www.whitehouse.gov/g8/2007/g8agenda.pdf.

7 UNEP, Report of the Twenty-Seventh Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, UNEP/OZL.Pro.WG.1/27/9 (18 June 2007), at 25 at http://ozone.unep.org/Meeting_Documents/oewg/27oewg/OEWG-27-9E.pdf.

8 See Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, The CFC-Ozone Puzzle: Environmental Science in the Global Arena, The John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science and the Environment, Presented at the National academy of Sciences, Washington, DC (7 Dec. 2000);  Mostafa Tolba with Iwona Rummel-Bulska, The Story of the Ozone Layer, Global Environmental Diplomacy: Negotiating Environmental Agreements for the World, 1973-1992, at 55-88 (MIT Press 1998); Richard Benedick, The Improbable Montreal Protocol: Science, Diplomacy, and Defending the Ozone Lawyer Policy, Case Study Prepared for the 2004 Policy Colloquium of the American Meteorological Society (2004).

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