Nations Narrow Differences but No Deal Yet on HFCs

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By Dean Scott

July 25 — A final deal to cut global use of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons eluded nearly 200 nations at talks over the weekend, but negotiators appear to be much closer to getting an historic agreement at a high-level summit to be held in October.

Developed and developing countries ended talks in Vienna July 23 closer on key issues, including a firmer funding pledge from richer nations to help developing countries find climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs, Durwood Zaelke, who tracks the talks for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, told Bloomberg BNA July 25.

Alternatives with a lower global warming impact than HFCs, which have a global warming impact thousands of times that of an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide, include HFO-1234yf, which was developed jointly by Honeywell and Dupont.

The U.S. is pushing for getting a formal amendment to cut HFCs under the Montreal Protocol at October talks in Kigali, Rwanda to prevent nearly a half-degree Celsius of warming this century.

One obstacle is India, which is not budging from its insistence that nations be given until 2031 to freeze use of HFCs; environmental groups say cuts must begin sooner, around 2020. India also has called for including energy efficiency improvements in any final amendment that would essentially allow it and other countries to count efficiency gains toward meeting any reductions agreed to.

Going into the talks, the North American proposal backed by the U.S. called for a 2019 freeze date—more than a decade earlier than under India's proposal—after which use of the refrigerant would begin to decline.

Outstanding Issues

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a July 23 statement issued at the close of the Vienna talks, said negotiators made progress on a “substantial” simplification of baseline proposals; an agreed-upon baseline is needed to determine the years from which reductions would be measured.

Negotiators also agreed to move forward with a consolidated text that over the next few months would be used as the basis for negotiating a formal amendment to be reached at the Oct. 10-14 Rwanda summit, which will serve as the 28th Meeting of the Parties (MOP-28) to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Ministers in Vienna also agreed to hold an intersessional meeting between the Vienna and Rwanda talks “to drive towards closure this year” on a final HFC phasedown amendment, according to the EPA statement. however, no date has been set for those talks.

HFCs—used as refrigerants, aerosol propellants, solvents, and fire retardants—were originally 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.

A rapid phasedown of HFCs and adoption of climate-friendly alternatives could avoid up to a half–degree Celsius of warming this century, or roughly one-quarter of the 2C global temperature goal nearly 200 nations agreed to at a December climate summit in Paris.

The Paris Agreement calls for keeping global warming to “well below” a 2C rise compared to pre-industrial levels and for the parties to “pursue efforts” for a 1.5 degree Celsius limit (2.7 F).

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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