By Michael Mackey
BANGKOK--Representatives from parties to the Montreal Protocol have agreed to form a group to discuss technical, financial, and legal aspects of managing emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), possibly signaling the start of negotiations to amend the treaty to phase out the use of such chemicals in air conditioning and refrigeration units, according to observers.
The United Nations Environment Program called the move by the Open-Ended Working Group of Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer “quite good progress.” The group concluded its 33rd meeting in Bangkok on June 28.
China, India, and Brazil have been blocking a joint proposal by the United States, Canada, and Mexico to amend the protocol since 2009, contending that use of HFCs, which are considered a highly potent greenhouse gas, should be curtailed through an international treaty on climate change rather than a treaty on ozone depletion.
“The fact that they have started to discuss technical, financial, and legal aspects of addressing HFCs using the mechanism of the Montreal Protocol is a step in the right direction,” Marc Chasserot, who attended the meeting as an industry observer, told BNA in a July 1 email. Chasserot is a managing director of shecco, a market development company that supports the introduction of climate-friendly technologies.
Observers said one reason for the apparent shift is a more supportive attitude by China following a June 8 announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama that their countries will cooperate in phasing down HFC production and consumption using the Montreal Protocol (36 INER 842, 6/19/13).
At the working group meeting, China took a different tack than normal, being quiet in public debate and cooperative in behind-the-scenes efforts to get substantive discussions under way, blogged David D. Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate and clean air programs.
“We know that serious assessments of feasibility and cost, and of policy, are under way in both China and India. So we look for continued progress,” Doniger told BNA.
Use of HFCs is growing rapidly, as the substances were identified as replacements for ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol. HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, but many are highly potent greenhouse gases, with some having many times the global-warming potential that carbon dioxide has, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. HFCs are used in air conditioners and refrigerators and as sealants.
Elements of a deal have already been talked about with Brazil and South Africa outlining three concerns, according to Doniger.
First is building confidence that alternatives are available. “India took the strongest view that alternatives were lacking. Brazil and South Africa took more nuanced positions,” Doniger blogged.
Second is building confidence that developed countries will contribute sufficient additional funding to the Multilateral Fund for Implementation of the Montreal Protocol.
“If HFC comes into the protocol, more money will be needed,” a UNEP official told BNA.
Brent Hoare, executive director of the Green Cooling Council, said “a very significant step in the right direction is the voluntary contribution of €3 million ($3.9 million) being offered to the Multilateral Fund by the European Commission for natural refrigerants projects in developing countries.”
Third is clarifying the relationship between the Vienna Convention and its Montreal Protocol and the United Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol.
The working group is due to meet in October at the next Meeting of the Parties in Bangkok with intersessional conversations likely between key countries, said one source.
U.N. officials were not available to comment and no statement was released.
“My expectation is that the parties may schedule some extra meetings in 2014, with the goal of reaching an agreement by the Meeting of the Parties in fall 2014,” NRDC's Doniger told BNA.
More information on the Montreal Protocol is available at http://ozone.unep.org/new_site/en/index.php.