Deal Cutting Refrigerant Climate Gases Can Be Strengthened

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By Dean Scott

Oct. 17 — Negotiators from nearly 200 nations who reached a deal over the weekend to cut 80 percent of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons by midcentury also agreed to periodically revisit whether to reduce climate emissions even more as new control technologies come online.

The global deal reached Oct. 15 targets consumption and production of HFCs used in air conditioning and refrigeration that, if left unchecked, would have an outsized impact on raising global temperatures.

All countries under the deal reached after a week of talks in Kigali, Rwanda, agreed to phase down HFCs. But the U.S. and other richer industrialized countries, many of which already are cutting HFCs, essentially will go first. They agreed to a 10 percent reduction in the refrigerant beginning in 2019.

Developing countries were given longer to take action, with China and most other developing economies agreeing to a freeze in 2024; India and a few other nations fought for and won a 2028 freeze date.

The Kigali amendment calls for periodic reviews of the global action phasing down HFCs every five years; a technical panel is to determine whether technologies have emerged to allow “any needed adjustments” in agreed-upon reductions, according to a White House fact sheet.

Under the deal, the U.S. and other richer nations agreed to begin ratcheting down HFCs in 2019 and continue doing so until 2036. At that time, the developed nations are to achieve an 85 percent cut from 2011–2013 production and consumption levels. President Barack Obama pursued the global deal on HFCs to complement the broader climate accord reached in Paris 10 months ago. Obama called the Kigali deal “an ambitious and far-reaching solution to this looming crisis” that makes “a significant contribution towards achieving the goals we set in Paris.”

Developing Nations Given More Time

But the deal provides a sort of sliding scale for developing nations, with one group—China, Latin America, Africa and island nations—agreeing to a freeze by 2024. That group covers the bulk of developing nations around the world, more than 100 total, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

A second tier of developing nations headed by India, which sought to delay any HFC freeze until about 2030 given its increasing demands for air conditioning for its burgeoning middle class, conceded to a slightly earlier freeze date of 2028 in the deal. Others in that group were given until 2028 to take action include Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and some Persian Gulf nations.

The deal was reached was reached as an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which has been successfully used to phase out substances that deplete the ozone layer. The Kigali negotiations served as the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone.

Hydrofluorocarbons originally were developed as alternatives to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). But HFCs were later determined to be a potent greenhouse gases with long atmospheric lifetimes and thus a significant contributor to global warming. Consequently, HFCs can be hundreds or even thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change.

Steep reductions in HFCs will require nations to move to alternatives with a lower global warming impact and increase energy efficiency, particularly in air conditioning units. Already existing more climate-friendly HFC alternatives include HFO-1234yf, developed jointly by Honeywell and Dupont.

Icing on the Cake After Paris?

The Rwanda deal was seen as icing on the cake for climate action, coming less than a year after nearly 200 nations reached the first truly global deal in Paris to address climate change, but also just weeks after a deal was announced to cut international aviation emissions of carbon dioxide. The aviation deal was reached Oct. 6 after roughly two decades of negotiations under the UN International Civil Aviation Organization.

Regine Guenther, interim leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Practice, said the Oct. 15 Kigali deal on HFCs “sends a powerful signal that our governments are serious about tackling climate change, coming as it does on the heels of the ratification of the Paris Agreement, a new deal to cap aviation emissions and just weeks before UN climate talks resume” in Morocco.

The Morocco talks got a boost with faster-than-anticipated ratification of the Paris Agreement this year by enough developed and developing nations to ensure it is formally in place in time for the two-week UN climate change conference in Marrakech, which opens Nov. 7. At the summit, countries will begin the first negotiations on how to implement the Paris Agreement, including a kind of rule book countries will use to measure and verify whether they make good on their pledges to cut emissions.

Mattlan Zackhras, a minister to the Marshall Islands—among the nations most vulnerable to sea-level rise linked to climate change—said hours before nations clinched the Oct. 15 Rwanda deal that deep cuts in HFCs “may be the single biggest bite we ever take out of the global mitigation gap in one go.”

Fastest Growing Climate Emissions

While HFCs are today responsible for only about 1 percent to 2 percent of global warming, they are the fastest growing climate-related emissions.

If left unaddressed, global emissions of HFCs would grow to the equivalent of 19 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in 2050, according to the White House; steep reductions during the coming decades could prevent nearly a half-degree Celsius of warming this century, the White House projects.

Durwood Zaelke, who has tracked the talks as president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, said the promised reductions get the world to about 90 percent of the goal of cutting a half degree Celsius of global warming this century.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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