The New Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol Takes Positive Steps to Curb Potent Greenhouse Emitter

kigali-amendmentThe New Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol Takes Positive Steps to Curb Potent Greenhouse Emitter

By Aaron Messing, Staff Contributor 

International lawmakers from 197 countries convened in Kigali, Rwanda this past Saturday, October 15th and successfully made amendments to the Montreal Protocol.[1]  As a protocol to the Vienna Framework Convention of 1985, the Montreal Protocol’s priority was to reduce the use of chemicals contributing to ozone depletion.[2]  The amendment passed Saturday served primarily to modify the restrictions on hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), a restricted chemical under Article 2F of the Protocol.[3]

HFCs are typically found in air conditioners and refrigerators, and although they only comprise a small percentage of the total greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere, they have the capacity to trap more than 1,000 times the heat trapped by carbon dioxide.[4]  Left unchecked, HFC emissions have the potential to single handedly increase global temperatures by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.[5]  HFCs were developed as functional replacements for Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were phased out by the Montreal Protocol.  Unlike CFCs, HFCs do not contain any chlorine, so they do not contribute to ozone depletion.[6]

In the wake of the phase out of CFCs, demand for HFCs grew and traces of HFC in the atmosphere began rapidly increasing.[7]  From 2011 to 2012 the United Nations Environment Programme calculated a 7% increase in HFC emissions.[8]  The Obama Administration’s focus on mitigating climate change, paired with the increase in emissions of HFCs, drove the US to the forefront of negotiations in November, 2015 in Dubai, where all parties of the Montreal Protocol agreed to work together to determine the feasibility and potential means of regulating the impact of HFCs.[9]  The Administration’s focus on HFCs was evidenced as early as 2013, when Obama met with the Chinese president to agree on a joint effort in making the reductions of HFCs a priority.[10]

The Kigali Amendment provides for differentiated responsibilities to countries to allow for more flexible timetables, reductions, and baselines.[11]  For the U.S., U.K., and other wealthy countries, the agreement will freeze production and consumption of HFCs by 2018, reducing them to 15% of the 2012 levels by 2036.[12]  For China, Brazil, South Africa, and Argentina, the agreement will freeze the use of the HFCs by 2024, which will reduce them to 20% of 2012 levels by 2045.[13]   For India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, the plan freezes production and consumption by 2028 and will reduce levels to 15% of 2025 by 2047.[14]  The plan will ultimately reduce global levels of HFCs by 80 to 85 percent by 2047.[15]

By most accounts, the amendment was a critical piece in the fight against the increasing of GHG emissions and their effects on climate.  However, some critics believe that the timetable concessions made to India and China in the amendment have weakened the overall impact, because their obligations come too far in the future.[16]  They argue that continued production of HFCs, of which China is the world leader, may cause the world to fall short in its goal of preventing the 0.5 Celsius global increase.[17]  Proponents of the amendment claim that the Montreal Protocol’s definitive success with the ozone layer also came with the differentiated responsibilities. Additionally, they argue that with the major reductions from the US and UK, the market will likely naturally phase out HFCs, and countries with longer reduction timetables will see quicker reductions than they expect.[18]

[1] Rhys Gerholdt, STATEMENT: WRI Statement on Montreal Protocol Amendment to Phase Down HFCs, World Resources Institute (Oct. 15, 2016), http://www.wri.org/news/2016/10/statement-wri-statement-montreal-protocol-amendment-phase-down-hfcs; The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, United Nations Environment Programme (last viewed Oct. 20, 2016), http://ozone.unep.org/en/treaties-and-decisions/montreal-protocol-substances-deplete-ozone-layer.

[2] Gerholdt, supra note 1; The Montreal Protocol, United Nations Environment Programme, supra note 1.

[3] Coral Davenport, Nations Fighting Powerful Refrigerant That Warms Planet, Reach Landmark Deal, The New York Times (Oct. 15, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/15/world/africa/kigali-deal-hfc-air-conditioners.html?asrc=me.

[4] Recent International Developments under the Montreal Protocol, United States Environmental Protection Agency (last visited Oct. 20, 2016), https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/recent-international-developments-under-montreal-protocol.

[5] David Doniger, Countries Adopt Kigali Amendment to Phase Down HFCs, National Resource Defense Council (Oct. 14, 2016), https://www.nrdc.org/experts/david-doniger/countries-adopt-kigali-amendment-phase-down-hfcs.

[6] Recent International Developments under the Montreal Protocol, United States Environmental Protection Agency, supra note 4.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Davenport, supra note 3.

[11] Gerholdt, supra note 1.

[12] Doniger, supra note 5.

[13] Davenport, supra note 3.

[14] Doniger, supra note 5.

[15] Gerholdt, supra note 1.

[16] Matt McGrath, Climate change: ‘Monumental’ deal to cut HFCs, fastest growing greenhouse gases, British Broadcasting Company (Oct. 15, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37665529.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

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