Insights into Editorial: Changing the course of the planet
After seven years of negotiations, 197 countries have finally reached a historic agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, to amend the Montreal Protocol and phase down hydrofluorocarbons. The Kigali Amendment is one that could avoid global warming by up to 0.5° C.
What are HFCs?
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a type of fluorinated gas most often used as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners, and in aerosol sprays. They are also used for commercial, residential and automotive purposes.
Why worry about them?
They were meant to replace HCFCs in order to protect the ozone layer but their global warming potential (GWP) has increasingly become a matter of concern in climate negotiations. They are hundreds to thousands of times more potent that carbon dioxide.
- Growth of HFCs has mainly been driven by a growing demand for cooling, particularly in developing countries with a fast-expanding middle class and hot climates.
- Currently, HFCs are currently the world’s fastest GHGs, with emissions increasing by up to 10% each year.
Key facts on Kigali agreement:
The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is legally binding and will come into force from 1 January 2019. Under Kigali Amendment, in all 197 countries, including India have agreed to a timeline to reduce the use of HFCs by roughly 85% of their baselines by 2045.
All signatory countries have been divided into three groups with different timelines to go about reductions of HFCs. These include:
- Wealthy, developed countries, such as the United States and the European Union, will start to limit their use of HFCs within a few years and make a cut of at least 10% from 2019.
- Rapidly developing countries, including many in Latin America, will freeze their use of HFCs starting in 2024.
- Developing countries, specifically India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states, will freeze their use starting in 2028.
What is the Montreal Protocol?
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer is a landmark international agreement designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer. The treaty was originally signed in 1987 and substantially amended in 1990 and 1992.
Why do some supporters think the Kigali Agreement is much stronger than the Paris agreements of 2015?
While the Paris pledges are broad, they are also voluntary, often vague and dependent on the political will of future world leaders. In contrast, the Kigali deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with more planet-friendly alternatives, trade sanctions to punish scofflaws, and an agreement by rich countries to help finance the transition of poor countries to the costlier replacement products. So, the new accord may be more likely to yield climate-shielding actions by industry and governments.
Why do some environmentalists think the Kigali Agreement is a big deal, but it could have been bigger?
- HFC emissions contribute far less to climate change than carbon emissions. They are more potent, but less widely used.
- Alternatives to HFCs have significant challenges: toxicity, price, flammability.
- Developing countries in hot regions with serious use for HFC-based air conditioners, such as the Gulf States, will not have to limit emissions for more than 10 years.
- China, the world’s largest producer of HFCs, will not start to cut their production or use until 2029.
India and the Kigali agreement:
Initially, India was not ready to agree on a freeze year but then it showed flexibility. Freeze year is the year in which phase down of HFCs starts. Not only it agreed on freeze year, but also agreed to advance it to 2028. This is four years later than its peer club countries China, Brazil and those in Africa, and achieving maximum reduction by 2047, two years after they do.
- In welcome contrast, however, India has ordered the manufacturers of HFC 23 — a by-product of another chemical used in refrigerant gas manufacture and with a staggeringly high contribution to global warming — to now capture and dispose of it at their own cost.
- The decision is of particular significance, considering the expansion of refrigeration and air conditioning in India with a rise in incomes, leading to higher levels of HFC release into the atmosphere.
As with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is strengthened by the Kigali amendments, developing countries will legitimately expect rich countries to aid them as they seek to acquire green technologies for industrial use. Now, given the impact of global warming, countries and people who have historically never been part of the problem should not have to argue their case for liberal assistance. Increased global rise in temperatures is melting the glaciers at a frightening speed and some small islands have already been submerged by the rising ocean levels. Let this Kigali amendment act as a wakeup call that we are living on a precipice; it only needs one more human folly to kiss our planet goodbye.