All is not lost for HFC talks as countries made tangible progress in Paris last week
The successes of the multilateral process of the Montreal Protocol are often overshadowed by the tussle over including hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), often resulting in the lack of a definitive amendment to include them.
HFCs are super greenhouse gases that proliferated as a direct result of the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) under the Montreal Protocol.
The 36th working group of parties, which met in Paris last week, started off on a good note by carrying forward the Vienna mandate of trying to reach an agreement over forming a contact group on resolution of the challenges encountered earlier.
It cannot be denied that the Vienna text, as it stands, is at best superficial rhetoric and not real action, but there are five reasons to believe that an HFC amendment is inevitable, if not imminent:
Momentum in favour of curbing HFCs
Forty countries have now collectively called for an HFC amendment. This shows that a significant number of countries are increasingly aware of the urgent need to control HFCs that have the capacity to trap heat several thousand times more than carbon dioxide.
There are four proposals—North American proposal jointly tabled by the United States of America, Canada and Mexico; Island States proposal put forth by a group of small island countries; the European Union (EU) proposal presented by the 28 EU member states; and lastly the Indian proposal submitted by India.
In April, the African Group also presented a conference room paper (CRP) that called for the phasing down of HFCs. Thus, the support for an HFC amendment seems to come from at least around a 100 countries.
In the plenary session during the week, India made a presentation on its HFC amendment proposal. Although the proposal leaves a lot to be desired in terms of ambition, it does serve as a starting point for negotiations.
Africa asked for formal structure
The African Group maintained its steadfast commitment to phasing down HFCs. Given that the continent experiences exacerbated impacts of climate change, Senegal, on behalf of 54 countries, urged parties to give the current HFC discussions a more formal structure.
Structured document for clarity
Colombia requested the Ozone Secretariat to provide all countries with a consolidated document that captures the many similarities as well as differences between the amendment proposals. Many countries supported the idea as it would enable parties to understand the implications of the various proposals and use the document as a tool for further negotiations.
Talks made real progress
This was the first time that parties conducted discussions on substantive issues. The informal discussions sought to prioritise challenges listed in the Vienna text, while the plenary saw presentations on the four proposals followed by question-and-answer rounds. Parties candidly discussed issues like baselines and base years, issues related to finance, energy efficiency, exemptions (including exemptions for high ambient temperature countries), intellectual property, technology review and technology transfer and linkages to the HCFC phase-out.
Parties have agreed to reconvene before the Meeting of Parties in November this year. The question that needs to be asked, however, is whether the current negotiating stances taken by countries are adopted in good faith or are they doomed to result in a zero sum game?
It is hard to ignore the fact that the upcoming Paris climate talks later this year have cast some shadow on HFCs that are essentially a greenhouse gas regulated under the climate regime.
Both the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Montreal Protocol subscribe to the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR). Any amendment must be ambitious enough to cut HFC consumption significantly from a business-as-usual scenario and must allow for equity in consumption of HFCs between different categories of countries.
Fairness in terms of sharing the burden to reduce HFCs will go a long way in strengthening global cooperation on climate issues, especially as countries prepare for the Paris climate change negotiations in December.
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