As nations mark the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, history’s most successful international agreement on the environment now turns its focus on helping to deliver the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, successfully phased out ozone depleting chemicals like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigerators and air conditioners, but their replacement, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), proved to be a potent greenhouse gas, some of them thousands of times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
Last year in Rwanda the Kigali Amendment was struck, as nations agreed to phasedown HFCs and replace them with newer chemicals without the same climate warming properties.
However with global warming pushing temperatures up and a growing middle class in the developing world demanding air conditioning and refrigeration, the danger of a vicious circle remains if new cooling technology is not rolled out fast enough.
Christian Aid’s Senior Policy & Advocacy Officer, Gaby Drinkwater is at the talks in Montreal. She said: “It’s a cruel irony that some of the man-made chemicals with the greatest global warming potential, are in appliances that people use to cool themselves down. The danger is, as we continue to heat up the planet, more air conditioning will be installed which could make the problem worse.
“It is vital that before demand for these appliances increases any further we replace HFCs with viable alternatives, otherwise it will prove extremely difficult to reach the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees.
“The Montreal Protocol has already saved the ozone layer, it must now be used to tackle climate change.”
On November 17th Sweden became the 20th country to ratify the Kigali Amendment which means it will come into force on January 1 2019. However if it’s going to prove effective, poorer countries, where most of the older HFC filled technology is used and where demand is expected to rise, needs financial support to make the transition.
Ms Drinkwater said: “In Montreal it will be important that the Kigali Amendment is brought alive and actually starts to deliver it’s potential. Financial support for poorer countries is vital to ensure this shift takes place. Poorer countries can boost the chances of us meeting the Paris Agreement goals if they they’re given the right support.
“That is why HFC phasedown activities should also be included in the country plans or nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which are the building blocks of the Paris Agreement.”
One other positive outcome from the Montreal summit would be to agree incentives for countries to improve the energy efficiency of their appliances. Even as HFCs are removed, air conditioners and refrigeration will be an increasing source of energy use as global temperatures rise.
Ms Drinkwater said: “Although cutting fossil fuel use and boosting renewables are essential to tackling climate change, an often-overlooked issue is cutting energy demand itself. Improving energy efficiency is one essential way of doing this, as it reduces carbon emissions and also saves on energy bills. Countries in Montreal this week could breathe life into this issue by developing incentives to drive energy efficiency improvements around the world.”
For more information, Christian Aid’s briefing paper on the summit and the benefits of the HFC phasedown can be found here: www.christianaid.org.uk/resources/about-us/maximising-benefits-global-phase-down-hydrofluorocarbons