Landmark Kigali HFC Deal to Amend Montreal Protocol – Aims to Reduce Global Warming a Critical .5 degrees Celsius


Oct 25, 2016
Landmark Kigali HFC Deal to Amend Montreal Protocol – Aims to Reduce Global Warming a Critical .5 degrees Celsius

Following great celebration over the ratification of the Paris Climate Accords, 170 nations reached a new binding deal this October on the reduction of global hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) use. HFCs are common chemical coolants used in air-conditioners and refrigerators, and are a particularly powerful source of greenhouse heating for the planet, as their heat-trapping effect is a thousand times that of carbon dioxide.

The deal, negotiated in Kigali, Rwanda, is legally binding, and is drafted as an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol that banned the industrial use of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). This maintains its legality as a treaty no matter the ratification date in any country, but requires re-ratification as an amendment in each country’s government since it is not simply an “adjustment.” It also contains a detailed timetable and usage targets that replaces HFCs with more environmentally-friendly materials, such as hydrocarbons and water, along with trade sanctions to give the deal teeth. There is also a financing agreement that provides assistance from richer countries to poorer, developing ones to adopt costlier, ecological alternatives.

The story of HFCs dates to just after ratification the Montreal Protocol.  Chemical companies were then forced to stop using chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, that didn’t harm the ozone layer but the HFS that evolved still had deep greenhouse heating effects. These chemicals increasingly came to light with the increasing attention as nations worked to adhere to a 2 degrees Celsius global warming limit that poses disastrous sea-level and atmospheric consequences for Earth. The United States and China, the world’s largest HFC emitters, both began solidifying the foundations for a deal in recent years. 

This deal is a landmark one, and in many ways superior to structure of the Paris accords. Although HFCs comprise a smaller percentage of greenhouse gases, this deal ensures stronger reduction levels to curb the planetary temperature increase in many ways that the accords won’t be able to with such efficiency. Firstly, in terms of ratification, this deal includes no threats to the fossil fuel industry (the main reason for the demise of most climate deals) and would therefore encounter less opposition from the Republican-controlled US Congress and other fossil fuel-allied governances. The deal also has extensive cooperation with representation of industrial HFC users and is backed by heavy scientific research from the world’s climate authorities that contribute to its efficient reduction targets.

The Paris COP21 deal is voluntary, and will take months to be placed in full effect by hundreds of nations that will need their own tailored solutions to its demands. The Kigali deal, in contrast, offers a binding approach that elongates reduction timetables and chemical transitions based on the development level and wealth of the participating countries. Developed countries will start phasing out HFCs in 2019, China in 2024, and the remaining countries in 2028.  Although many had hoped for a more aggressive timetable, this approach may prove to be a dramatic improvement in terms of effective cooperation and agreement over previous one-size-fits-all agreements like the Kyoto Protocol of 1992, allowing developing nations to set realistic goals with assistance from stronger countries capable of much more rapid carbon reduction strategies. This deal, in conclusion, offers a robust framework for future deals that could tackle the reduction of other polluting portions of world societies, perhaps even the eventual debate over the use of fossil fuel-powered cars and coal plants. 

Rapid, and binding, agreements like the Kigali HFC Deal will only become more prevalent as the world’s climate needs become the top issue at hand, and their effectiveness will certainly dictate humanity’s course over the next few decades.


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