Last Saturday in Kigali, Rwanda, countries signed legally binding agreement to curb some powerful greenhouse gases known as hydro fluoro carbons (HFCs), largely used as fuel in airconditioning and refrigeration. Environmentalists regard this development as the largest climate breakthrough since Paris pact, reports Bennett Oghifo
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stated that 200 countries have struck a landmark deal to reduce the emissions of powerful greenhouse gases, hydro fluoro carbons (HFCs), in a move that could prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of this century.
The Montreal Protocol…
This initiative comes under an amendment to the Montreal Protocol signed at a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda last Saturday. Adopted in 1987, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is the most successful UN environmental agreement in history. Ratified by 197 parties, it has led to a 98 per cent decrease in the production and use of ozone-damaging chemicals, helping the ozone layer to start recovering, saving an estimated two million people each year by 2030 from skin cancer and contributing to mitigating climate change.
The amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Introduction of HFCs…
The chemicals, collectively known as Hydroflurocarbons (HFCs), became popular as replacements for ozone depleting chemicals known as Chloroflorocarbons (CFCs), which include; CFC, Halons, CTC, and Methyl Bromide, among others. CFCs are used in refrigeration, foam making, and as aerosols; Halons are used in firefighting; CTC is used as a cleaning and process agent in industries; while Methyl Bromide is used for preservation of grains and soil fumigation. Most ozone depleting substances are also powerful greenhouse gases because they trap heat and cause global warming.
Nigeria and other nations attained the zero consumption target of January 1, 2010, set by the international community to stop the use of CFCs. Nigeria stopped the importation of CfCs while countries that were producing CfCs stopped and those that were exporting also stopped. The nation’s ability to meet the deadline followed strategic and extensive training and enlightenment campaigns carried out by the Ozone Programme Implementation and Management Unit (OPIAMU), established by the federal government and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2004. OPIAMU, which was headed by Dr. David Omotosho, was set up to work under UNDP to implement the National CFC Phase-out Plan, with the stoppage of production and exportation of CfCs.
Besides robust training conducted under this programme, several recovery and recycling machines were distributed to representatives of companies that use CFCs across the country by the country office of the UNDP.
However, a report launched in 2011 by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) projected that by 2050 HFCs could be responsible for emissions equivalent to 3.5 to 8.8 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2eq), comparable to total current annual emissions from transport, estimated at around 6-7 Gt annually.
That UNEP projection came sooner than expected with Saturday’s agreement in Kigali.
“Last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, (Saturday) we are following through on that promise,” said UN Environment Chief, Erik Solheim, in a statement by the United Nations Environment Programme.
“This is about much more than the ozone layer and HFCs. It is a clear statement by all world leaders that the green transformation started in Paris is irreversible and unstoppable. It shows the best investments are those in clean, efficient technologies.”
Commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances, HFCs are currently the world’s fastest growing greenhouse gases, their emissions increasing by up to 10 per cent each year. They are also one of the most powerful, trapping thousands of times more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2), said UNEP.
“The faster we act, the lower the financial costs will be, and the lighter the environmental burden on our children,” said President of Rwanda Paul Kagame.
“That begins with a clear signal that change is coming and it is coming soon. In due course, new innovations and products will allow us to phase out HFCs even faster, and at lower cost.”
According to UNEP, the rapid growth of HFCs in recent years has been driven by a growing demand for cooling, particularly in developing countries with a fast-expanding middle class and hot climates. The Kigali amendment provides for exemptions for countries with high ambient temperatures to phase down HFCs at a slower pace.
“It is not often you get a chance to have a 0.5-degree centigrade reduction by taking one single step together as countries – each doing different things perhaps at different times, but getting the job done,” said US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“If we continue to remember the high stakes for every country on Earth, the global transition to a clean energy economy is going to accelerate.”
Phase down schedule…
Following seven years of negotiations, the 197 Montreal Protocol parties reached a compromise, under which developed countries will start to phase down HFCs by 2019. Developing countries will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024, with some countries freezing consumption in 2028.
By the late 2040s, all countries are expected to consume no more than 15-20 per cent of their respective baselines.
Financing and alternatives to HFCs…
Countries also agreed to provide adequate financing for HFCs reduction, the cost of which is estimated at billions of dollars globally. The exact amount of additional funding will be agreed at the next Meeting of the Parties in Montreal, in 2017. Grants for research and development of affordable alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons will be the most immediate priority.
Alternatives to HFCs currently being explored include substances that do not deplete the ozone layer and have a smaller impact on the climate, such as ammonia or carbon dioxide. Super-efficient, cost-effective cooling technologies are also being developed, which can help protect the climate both through reducing HFCs emissions and by using less energy.
The Kigali Amendment comes only days after two other climate action milestones: sealing the international deal to curb emissions from aviation and achieving the critical mass of ratifications for the Paris climate accord to enter into force.