Day 1 – 1st August 2011: Probably the first thing that you might notice if you have looked at our recent reports to the Montreal Protocol (which was set up to repair the ozone hole) is that we seem to talk a lot more about climate change than ozone depletion.
This is not because the ozone hole has been fixed – quite the reverse – 2011 saw the largest ever ozone hole in the Arctic and unfortunately while the Montreal Protocol has been successful in phasing out 98% of the consumption ozone depleting substances, and atmospheric levels of key ozone depleting substances are going down, it will take until the middle of the century for the ozone layer to return to pre-1980 levels.
But CFCs and HCFCs (the main ozone depleting chemicals) are also super greenhouse gases. We say ‘super’ because they are literally thousands of times more potent global warming gases than carbon dioxide. Because of this, the Montreal Protocol has already had a major impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has been described as the best climate treaty to date (of course it doesn’t have much competition….).
CFCs and HCFCs are man-made chemicals used predominantly in refrigeration, air-conditioning, and as foam blowing agents, fire suppressants and aerosols. Countries converting from these chemicals have traditionally chosen hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals that do not harm the ozone layer but that are super greenhouse gases with global warming potentials (GWP) hundreds to thousand of times greater than CO2. Developed countries that have already phased out ozone depleting substances have switched to high-GWP alternatives in around 75% of cases.
Fortunately there are substitutes available – so called natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons – which are both climate and ozone friendly. So for the last few years our focus at the Montreal Protocol has been to urge Parties to phase out existing HFCs, and ensure that the ongoing developing country phase-out of HCFCs does not result in a massive phase-in of HFCs.
Today’s meeting opened with Mr Marco Gonzalez, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, setting out some of the highlights of the work carried out so far and the challenges ahead. There was then a presentation from the TEAP (Technical and Economic Assessment Panel) of a report which assessed the need for financing over the next three years to allow the continued phase-out of HCFCs in developing countries. A large number of questions were raised regarding the information in the TEAP report and a contact group was set up to further look at the information needed from the TEAP before the Meeting of the Parties in November when a decision on funding will have to be taken.
The second substantive item on the agenda was proposals to phase down HFCs – one by the North American countries (US, Canada and Mexico) and another by Micronesia. Slightly different versions of the proposals have been submitted previously, for the first time in 2009. John Thompson from the US introduced the North American proposal describing the growth in HFCs as “…an impending crisis”, and noted that the longer we wait to address it, the more difficult and expensive this problem will be for all countries to take on. There followed a two and half hour discussion with many countries supporting the amendment proposals and the need for a contact group to discuss the proposals further. However several countries, most strongly India, China and Brazil, maintained that discussion of HFCs should remain under the UNFCCC as HFCs are not ozone depleting substances.
India repeatedly stated that they had questions about the proposals that had not been answered – and yet they would not support the idea of going into a contact group (a discussion group outside the main plenary part of the meeting), which is the usual process of the Montreal Protocol.
The European Commission reminded Parties that the BASIC countries (Brazil, S. Africa, India and China) had concluded at a meeting in February this year that the issue of the phase down high-GWP HFCs required an in-depth examination – he hoped that could start this week.
Georgia was brief but eloquent, stating that the possibility of HFCs being regulated under the climate regime is “zero” and that the only proposed way to prevent unconstrained growth of HFCs is the Montreal Protocol.
The meeting was adjourned without closing the agenda item – its clear there will be no resolution of this at this meeting, but at least some discussion is taking place.