Montreal Protocol: crucial meet on HFCs begins

Should these coolant gases be discussed under Montreal Protocol? Outcome of Bangkok meet may influence climate talks later this year

By Uthra Radhakrishnan
Published: Monday 21 October 2013

imageHydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), coolant gases, are a hotly debated matter now and have climbed to the top of political agenda of leading premiers in the world in recent months. Whether these gases should be discussed under the Montreal Protocol that addresses ozone-depleting gases is a key agenda item for the week-long 25th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (MOP 25) that opens Monday in Bangkok, Thailand.

At present, HFCs are handled under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since they are greenhouse gases (GHGs) with high global warming potential. Their emissions are on the rise as they have started replacing ozone-depleting substances called hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are handled under the Montreal Protocol. Claiming that the rise in their emissions is the direct fallout of the transition from HCFCs that is presently under way, the US has been proposing these refrigerant gases be moved to the Montreal Protocol from UNFCCC. Furthermore, HFCs feature in the non-CO2 basket of gases that the US has placed its focus on under its climate change mitigation strategy.

Where India stands
But some developing countries, emerging economies such as India, Brazil and China, where use of HFCs is expected to grow without any controls, have been opposing such a transition for long; they would rather discuss HFCs under UNFCCC. They have two reasons for it: one is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances and the other is that they already belong under the UNFCCC where a differentiation between developed and developing countries is made under the “common but differentiated responsibility” principle that mandates developed countries to take the lead in reducing emissions in view of their much higher contribution to atmospheric carbon in the past.

Role of contact group
The US along with Canada and Mexico has submitted an amendment for addressing HFCs under the Montreal Protocol and so have the island states of Micronesia and Mauritius. In order for an official decision to emerge from the Protocol, an issue first needs to be formally discussed under a contact group. Following several years of stalemate on setting up such a contact group, the preparatory meeting for MOP 25 that took place in Bangkok earlier in the year saw some movement. A discussion group, which does not enjoy the same legal authority as a contact group, was set up to discuss “management of HFCs”. Parties then discussed the larger concerns of phasing down HFCs and the financial and technological implications for this, instead of restricting the discussions to the amendments proposed by the US and Micronesia. A note of the discussion was made in the official minutes of the meeting. But in order for parties to move decisively on the issue, a contact group will still need to be set up.

The meeting in Bangkok is expected to serve as a litmus test on several fronts.  The meeting takes place just ahead of the UNFCCC meeting in Warsaw where developed countries, particularly the EU, is asking parties to agree to a decision on moving HFCs from UNFCCC to the Montreal Protocol. The decision of the contact group will influence what happens at Warsaw. Failing to set up one also means another year will be lost. With some developed countries betting on a deal on HFCs in the run up to a deal on climate change in 2015 at Paris, what transpires at Bangkok will hold the answers to more than just the fate of the coolants.

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