No consensus on HFCs at Montreal Protocol meet

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Hydrofluorocarbons to be discussed in an informal group after many nations oppose formation of contact group to discuss the greenhouse gases

L-R: Gilbert Bankobeza and Tina Birmpili, Ozone Secretariat; and Co-Chairs Patrick McInerney (Australia) and Richard Mwendandu (Kenya) (Photo courtesy IISD)

At the close of second day of the Meeting of Parties (MOP) to the Montreal Protocol on Tuesday, countries were still far from reaching a consensus on discussing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The co-chairs, after listening to statements from all parties, stated that an “informal group” is to be established to discuss various issues that surround HFCs.

HFCs were introduced as substitutes for ozone depleting substances that are dealt under Montreal Protocol. However, despite their ozone friendly characteristics, they are highly potent greenhouse gases (GHGs). Thus Montreal Protocol has proposed to phase-out HFCs by moving to low global warming potential (GWP) alternatives in the current phase-out of ozone depleting refrigerants. However, there have been concerns of heavy price tag of the transition away from HFCs. However, there have been some concerns by a few countries over heavy price tag of the transition away from HFCs and the fact that HFCs are already included in the UNFCCC mechanism that aims to reduce GHG emissions. Therefore, countries that opposed the formation of the contact group have demonstrated doubts and a potential jurisdictional conflict over the gas if HFCs are included under Montreal Protocol.

Some countries have persistently objected to proposed amendments to bring HFCs within the ambit of Montreal Protocol because these are not ozone depleting but have high warming potential which ought to be dealt under climate negotiations. But those countries had not updated their objections or statements to incorporate findings from the newly released Technological and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP). The report covers a wide range of topics on low GWP alternatives and their implications. Therefore, these countries raised the same old concerns about cost effectiveness of an HFC phase-down and the legal mandate of the Montreal Protocol to have an HFC phase-down.

China’s tactical opposition

India, in a diplomatic maneuver, given the sensitivity of the issue (read the Modi-Obama statement) that also addressed HFCs. China refrained from making a statement for a long time. By the time China took the floor, many countries had already objected to the formation of the contact group. Therefore, all China had to do was remind the meeting that no decision must be taken without consensus of all parties, which is customary. By doing so, China very tacitly opposed the formation of contact group.

The Gulf countries unreservedly and openly opposed the formation of the contact group with the combination of various reasons stated above. Among other countries that blockaded the formation of the contact group were some south-east Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

On the other hand, small island developing states (SIDs) such as Cook Islands, St Lucia, Grenada and Fiji were amongst some countries that supported the formation of the contact group.

At the end of the day, the chairs went ahead to form an informal group (the discussions of which are not mentioned in the final reports of the meeting as opposed to contact groups) to discuss HFCs. This was a compromise from the proposed contact group, nonetheless it was a small-positive step towards moving the discussion forward to an effective way to address HFCs.

A few NGOs- took the floor to urge the countries to form a contact groupby reminding the parties of the big picture and the need for rapid and effective action to mitigate HFCs and the climate benefits thereof that will help us limit global warming to 2 degrees celsius.

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