October 1, 2007

Historic agreement accelerates HCFC freeze, phase-out under Montreal Protocol

At the 19th meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, representatives of 191 countries (190 countries plus the European Commission) agreed to accelerate the elimination of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) treaty established in 1987 to protect the Earth's ozone layer.

The agreement will advance the freeze of production and consumption of HCFCs, the last ozone-depleting substance (ODS) of importance, by three years in developing countries. Previously, no limits were set for developing countries prior to their phase-out date.

This will be followed by the addition of an ambitious series of reductions leading to a total HCFC phase-out ten years sooner than originally planned. Developed countries have agreed to an accelerated schedule for the phase-out of HCFCs, freezing production in 2013 and moving the final phase-out date up to 2020.

The decision, including an agreement to make sufficient funding available to achieve the strategy, follows mounting evidence that HCFCs contribute to global warming.

HCFCs emerged in the 1990s as an interim substitute for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the older, more ozone-damaging chemicals previously used in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. HCFCs, which also damage the ozone layer but less than CFCs, were due to be phased out in 2030 by developed countries and in 2040 by developing ones.

In recent years and months, mounting evidence has emerged on the growth in HCFCs and the potentially significant benefits to be gained, in terms of combating both climate change and ozone loss, if an accelerated freeze and phase-out could be achieved.

Experts estimate that without the latest agreement, production and consumption of HCFCs might have doubled by 2015, adding to the dual challenges of ozone depletion and climate change. Industry experts also indicated that an agreement in Montreal would send a strong positive signal stimulating the rapid development of replacement chemicals and technologies.

UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, who is also the United Nations Under-Secretary General, called the agreement an "important and quick win" for combating climate change.

"Historic is an often over-used word but not in the case of this agreement made in Montreal," he said. "Governments had a golden opportunity to deal with the twin challenges of climate change and protecting the ozone layer, and governments took it. The precise and final savings in terms of greenhouse gas emissions could amount to several billions of tonnes illustrating the complementarities of international environmental agreements," he added.

The final agreement is a combination of various options proposed by Argentina and Brazil; Norway, Iceland and Switzerland; the United States; Mauritania, Mauritius and the Federated States of Micronesia. Its terms call for HCFC production to be frozen in 2013 at the average production levels of 2009-2010. Developed countries have agreed to a 75% reduction in production and consumption by 2010. The reduction will rise to 90% by 2015, with final phase-out in 2020.

Developing countries have agreed to cut production and consumption by 10% in 2015, 35% by 2020 and 67.5% by 2025, with a final phase-out in 2030. A small percentage of the original base line-amounting to 2.5%-will be allowed in developing countries during the period 2030-2040 for "servicing" purposes. Essentially, this means that some equipment approaching its end of life, such as office block air conditioning units, could continue to run on HCFCs for a few more years if needed.

The financing agreement reached by the Montreal Protocol signatories takes into account the need for "stable and sufficient" funds and the fact that there may be "incremental costs" for developing countries under the accelerated HCFC freeze and phase-out. The governments agreed to commission a short study by experts to fully assess the likely costs of the acceleration. They will report back to the parties early in 2008 on the estimated sums required to replenish the Multilateral Fund, the Montreal Protocol's financial arm which comes up for replenishment next year. To date, this fund has provided over $2 billion to assist ODS reductions in developing countries.

The September 22 Montreal meeting was followed on September 24 by a heads of state meeting on climate change in New York, hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. This event is in preparation for the next round of negotiations on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which will take place in December in Bali, Indonesia. The focal point of these negotiations will be an international greenhouse gas emissions reductions agreement for the post-2012 period.

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