Montreal Protocol Meeting Considers Chemicals with Climate Impact
The 24th meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol (MOP-24), which deals with ozone-depleting substances (ODS), closed in Geneva, Switzerland on 16 November. One of the most controversial issues that the delegates had before them was to decide whether or not to amend the Protocol to cover hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer which serves as the Earth’s shield against dangerous ultraviolet rays. Since its entry into force in 1989, over 98 percent of the consumption of ODS has been phased out. This achievement, coupled with universal participation since 2009, has made the Montreal Protocol the world’s most successful environmental treaty. However, new problems have emerged over time.
During the past 25 years, as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) - the main ODS - were being phased out, HFCs were largely used as a suitable alternative. Although HFCs do not damage the ozone layer, they are considered a super greenhouse gas (GHG), with a global warming potential hundreds or even thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. Recognising the threat that HFCs pose, several delegates have been proposing to amend the Protocol to include HFCs over the past several MOPs. The proposals have always been considered, but never agreed to. Objections to any amendment regarding HFCs have originated from the BRICS countries. At the most recent meeting, the objectors included India, China, Bahrain and Kuwait, while the US, Canada, Mexico and Micronesia acted as proponents.
The opponents to the proposed amendment mainly argued that HFCs are not ODS. Therefore, discussions of this issue should not fall under the Montreal Protocol, but rather at other for a, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, the opponents indicated during informal discussions that a new amendment would significantly benefit industries in the proponent countries, while being damaging to their own industries.
The proponents, on the other hand, claimed that the Montreal Protocol would be the right vehicle for addressing HFCs, as these chemical substances originated from its very own agenda. They also noted that the Protocol has managed to phase out more ozone depleting GHGs than the Kyoto Protocol.
According to some observers, there may be scope to address HFCs under the Protocol in the future, as some of the opponents - including China, with its strong export-oriented industry - may be softening their stances.
In related news, a scientific study was published online some months before the meeting, indicating that global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer could be linked more closely than previously thought through a previously unknown pathway. When water molecules make it to the stratosphere as a result of strong thunderstorms, they combine with pollutants, such as sulphates, to create a chemical reaction that destroys ozone. For this to happen, thunderstorms would have to be powerful enough to send water vapour up to those altitudes, which are usually completely dry. Since climate change is leading to more active storms and hurricanes, this creates the link between ozone depletion and global warming.
ICTSD reporting; “Meeting Summary”, IISD’s EARTH NEGOTIATIONS BULLLETIN; “As the Montreal Protocol Celebrates 25 years, its reputation hangs in the balance”, SACRAMENTO BEE, 9 November 2012; “Phl participates in 24th meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances”, PIA, 22 November 2012; “The Ozone Problem is Back - And Worse Than Ever”, SMITHSONIAN, December 2012.
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