Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog
David Doniger’s Blog
Deal on HFC Super-Pollutants Inches Forward
A global deal to phase down the powerful heat-trapping chemicals called hydroﬂuorcarbons (HFCs) inched forward after a week of international negotiations in Bangkok under the Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful environmental treaty.
Prospects for progress rose sharply in mid-April when India put forward its own proposal to phase down HFCs on the Montreal treaty. The Indian initiative means there are now four speciﬁc phase-down proposals under discussion – including ones from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, from Micronesia, and from the European Union. China also supports an HFC phase-down. Curbing HFCs also has the support of the entire African bloc and nearly all Latin American, Asian, and small island nations. (NRDC and our partners have put together a fact sheet on the four proposals.)
HFCs are manufactured chemicals used in air conditioning and other applications. They have up to 10,800 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide, on a pound for pound basis. And they are the fastest growing climate-changing pollutants, on pace to make up as much as a quarter of the heat-trapping pollution in the atmosphere by mid-century.
The Bangkok meeting began with a two-day workshop documenting rapid progress in developing new low-impact coolants and air conditioning equipment to use them. Solutions are on the market or under development for nearly every HFC application. An HFC phase-down agreement will send the market signals needed for full-scale deployment of the solutions.
The Bangkok meeting showed the broad support that has developed in the six years since the North American and small island countries introduced the ﬁrst HFC phase-down proposals in 2009. The biggest developing countries – China, India, and Brazil – are ready to engage. And the African Group – all 54 nations on the continent – is united in driving the process forward.
But the meeting also showed that not everyone is onboard. Saudi Arabia and a small group of clients – including Kuwait, Pakistan, and Bahrain – prevented actual negotiations from getting under way, just as they had at the last meeting in November 2014. Speciﬁcally, they opposed forming a “contact group,” the formal vehicle for hammering out solutions to speciﬁc problems.
The Montreal Protocol’s tradition of action by consensus, while usually a source of strength, turns into a major obstacle when the majority is ready to move but a few countries are dissatisﬁed.
Saudi Arabia struck a deﬁant tone through much of the meeting. “We will never agree in one year, ﬁve years, or 100 years” to start these negotiations, declared Taha Zatari, the chief Saudi delegate on Thursday. Frustrations boiled over on Friday morning, when Senegal, speaking on behalf of the entire African Group, accused Saudi Arabia of “blocking” – tough talk in a diplomatic setting.
On the surface, the Saudis have a plausible complaint: It’s really hot in our part of the world, and we need to be sure that we will have new air conditioning technologies before committing to new requirements.
The fallacy of the Saudi position is that none of the HFC phase-down proposals would require countries with hot climates to curb HFC use now.
All of the HFC proposals contemplate that developing countries will act after developed countries, with ﬁnancial assistance from the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund.
It is easy to imagine a schedule for developing country reductions that provides plenty of time before HFC reductions kick in. And to add special provisions that allow extra time, if needed, to perfect alternatives for air conditioning in very high temperatures.
Countries backing an HFC phase-down made it crystal clear that they are open to these solutions. But the Saudis are having trouble taking “yes” for an answer.
Clearly concerned about being tagged as “blockers,” the Saudis softened their stance Friday afternoon. They agreed to holding an “intersessional” meeting in the next two months, “with a view toward establishing a contact group” on HFC proposals at the next negotiating session in Paris in July. Only a small concession, but movement nonetheless.
And so the Bangkok meeting achieved its minimum objectives: solidifying support for acting on HFCs and inching the process forward.
Nearly every country will come to Paris in July ready to roll up its sleeves and start hammering out an agreement. A landmark HFC deal could be reached as early as November, when the Montreal Protocol parties meet in Dubai.
An HFC phase-down agreement would be a big deal in its own right, and it would be a shot in the arm towards the bigger climate change deal countries are seeking to reach in Paris in December.
But the Saudis can still block the process. Do they want to take the heat?
India Proposes HFC Phase-Down Amendment Proposal to the Montreal Protocol
The Indian government recently took a leading role in global efforts to address climate change by proposing a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) phase-down amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol). The proposed amendment, put forward on 16th April, 2015, would phase down production and consumption of these powerful heat-trapping gases.
The Indian proposal joins HFC phase-down proposals put forward by the North American countries, the European Union, Micronesia, and the African Group. Issues related to an HFC phase-down will be discussed at the 35th Session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, starting on 22nd April 2015 in Bangkok. An HFC amendment could be agreed at the November 2015 Meeting of the Parties in Dubai.
The Indian proposal is available here: http://conf.montreal-protocol.org/meeting/oewg/oewg-35/presession/default.aspx
Key features of India’s proposed amendment are:
- A list of 19 HFC substances divided into four groups.
- Controls on HFCs starting in 2016 for developed countries (Non-Article 5 Parties) and 2031 for developing countries (Article 5 Parties), allowing a 15-year grace period.
- Multilateral Fund support for full conversion costs for Article 5 Parties.
- Maintaining the authority under the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol to account for and report on HFC emissions.
- Licensing of HFC production, import and export, reporting requirements, and limitations on HFC imports and exports to non-Parties.
India’s proposal with regard to the Multilateral Fund (MLF) differs from other amendment proposals. Where other proposals call for covering agreed incremental costs (the approach currently used under the Protocol), India proposes including MLF payment for full conversion costs. These are defined to include civil, electrical, and mechanical aspects of the facility; lost profits and full conversion costs for HFC production plants, manufacturing equipment, and operating costs for 5 years; training, technicians, awareness, tools, and payment for premature retirement of equipment; and double conversion costs wherever transitional technologies are to be deployed.
HFCs were introduced to replace ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) in applications including refrigeration, air conditioning, fire protection and technical and medical aerosol products, but they are no longer necessary in most applications. The Indian proposal exempts HFC production and consumption for metered dose inhalers (MDIs) and other medical applications, and for feedstock applications.
As the global consensus builds towards phasing down HFCs through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, this week’s Montreal Protocol meeting is an important opportunity to identify the key issues that need to be resolved through negotiation. These include:
- List of chemicals and possible chemical groupings for HFCs
- Calculation of baseline for Article 5 and Non-Article 5 Parties
- Timetable for freeze and reduction of production and consumption of HFCs
- Basis of financing: agreed incremental costs or full conversion costs; and the start date for funding
The following charts and table summarize key aspects of the amendment proposals put forward for the Montreal Protocol.
India’s proposal signals that the pace of international engagement on HFCs is quickening. An amendment to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol will give Article 5 Parties access to technology and financial support under a treaty with a proven track record and a functioning framework. An amendment can and should be agreed this year, at the Conference of the Parties in November in Dubai.
Fact sheet Prepared by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) and Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), with contributions from Stephen Seidel
Publications For Further Reading
The full Indian proposal is available here:
Primer on Hydrofluorocarbons, March 2015,
Reducing Stress on India’s Energy Grid: The Power Sector Benefits of Transitioning to Lower Global Warming Potential and Energy Efficient Refrigerants in Room Air Conditioners, March 2015
Energy Efficiency Gains with Lower Global Warming Impact: A Profile of Air Conditioners Using R-290, November 2014
Energy Efficiency Gains with Lower Global Warming Impact: A Profile of Air Conditioners Using R-32, November 2014
Frequently Asked Questions on HFCs, October 2014
Modelling Long Term HFC Emissions from India’s Residential Air-Conditioning Sector, July 2014
Update on the HFC Phase-Down in Mobile Air Conditioning: Global Automakers Moving to HFO-1234yf, Except Some German Automakers Waiting for CO2 Systems, March 2014