The Montreal Protocol meeting in Bangkok in July focused on safety standards, energy efficiency and financial support for developing countries.
Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA
Last October, in Kigali, Rwanda, 197 countries agreed to extend the scope of the Montreal Protocol treaty from the original phase-out of ozone-depleting gases to a new phase-down of HFC super greenhouse gases in what has become known as the Kigali Amendment.
Seven years in the making, this was a signature moment in the global struggle to reduce global warming. If successfully implemented, the Kigali Amendment could avoid emissions of over 70 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) by 2050. Also, the amendment represents a major boost to the prospects for climate-friendly natural refrigerants.
But the work has just begun. July 11-14, in the first follow-up meeting to the Rwanda gathering, the Parties (countries) to the Montreal Protocol met in Bangkok, Thailand, to start addressing the critical elements needed to implement the Amendment. Officially, this was the 39th Session of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
Three key issues stood out among the topics under discussion:
Updating safety standards
Obsolete safety standards have been a barrier to market uptake of climate-friendly alternatives to HFCs in the cooling sector. To address this issue, a full-day workshop on “Safety Standards Relevant to the Safe Use of Low-GWP Alternatives to Hydrofluorocarbons” was convened the day before the OEWG meeting.
The workshop was divided into four sessions: an overview of the international safety standards of greatest importance to the Montreal Protocol and its Kigali Amendment, and the process for developing and revising the standards; identifying limitations to the uptake of lower-GWP alternatives that could be addressed with changes to existing international safety standards; the relationship between international and national safety standards; and how stakeholders can work together to maximize the opportunities for the safe use of lower-GWP alternatives.
Discussions revolved around unpacking the challenges associated with modernizing and harmonizing the standards that apply to this sector across geographies, while getting broader stakeholder participation and ensuring human safety is not compromised.
Broader participation by experts in developing (A5) countries could lead to more timely progress on key technical issues affecting refrigerant choices in priority sectors, and to increased focus on the most cost-effective and efficient technologies. For instance, A2L (so-called mildly flammable) refrigerants have received increased attention and focus in recent years as it is in the interest of multiple U.S., European and Japanese companies to open up the market to R32, HFOs and a number of new HFC blends that are A2Ls. But greater participation, including from developing countries, may help address the full range of alternatives, including A3 refrigerants.
Expanded participation in working groups focused on standards will also contribute to greater regional knowledge of the technical aspects of proposed changes, allowing for more rapid adoption of changes to international standards at the national level. Continued political attention is thus critical for progress in this arena.
Integrating energy efficiency
Energy efficiency was a key discussion point at the Bangkok meeting. Two separate Conference Room Papers (CRPs) were presented – one from India and other Group 2 (high-ambient developing) countries, as well as one from the African Group; the latter asked for additional work on how refrigerant transition would be accompanied by concurrent energy-efficiency gains. These proposals received near-universal support from all developing countries.
Donor countries showed openness to discussing the scope of energy efficiency, and there was consensus around having a focused workshop to further flesh out an appropriate strategy. However, the challenge of incorporating energy efficiency compounds the complexities around how to best direct finite funds. There is a concern that transitional alternatives like HFC-32 or HFC/HFO blends, which are yet to be used in a widespread manner, are being pitched as “energy efficient alternatives” but there seems no reason to spend public money toward such chemicals that will necessitate another transition in the near future anyway.
Another key negotiating issue was how much money will be available for the Multilateral Fund and what exactly it will be used for in helping developing countries to carry out an HCFC phase-out (the precursor to the HFC phase-down). The Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) estimated that for the years 2018-2020 around $600 million to $750 million will be required, most of it going to phasing down HCFCs and about 5%-10% going towards “enabling activities” for developing countries to start the HFC phase-down.
After protracted discussions in a contact group formed for this specific issue, Parties agreed on a list of items to be covered by TEAP in its supplementary report on funding needs for the 2018-2020 replenishment of the Multilateral Fund at the next Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Montreal Protocol.
A robust replenishment will be critical to assuring developing countries that they’ll have adequate resources to plan for and implement the Kigali Amendment. This is particularly significant as Parties endeavor to ratify the amendment back home. Additionally, strong replenishment now will enable countries to look for greater opportunities to take the right preparatory steps for the HFC phase-down, or leapfrog HFCs altogether, thus being more cost-effective in the long run.
Other conversations, which included reporting data and HFC destruction, will be continued at the next meeting in November in Montreal, Canada.
In addition, the OEWG meeting was preceded by the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Multilateral Fund, where important guidance work was completed regarding cost guidelines, enabling activities, and a study on the most cost- effective ways to destroy R23, a super-potent by-product of R22 production, with a very high GWP (14,800).
With the adoption of the Kigali Amendment, the Parties to the Montreal Protocol joined the urgent global effort to prevent dangerous anthropogenic climate change. It is now time for them to translate intent to actions in order to swiftly implement the Kigali Amendment and fulfill its potential.
When Parties to the Protocol meet again in November, the Protocol will be celebrating its 30th Anniversary. If we have learned anything in the last 30 years from the success of the Montreal Protocol, it is that a global agreement, regardless of how well intended, cannot meet its full potential unless it is accompanied by robust implementation. Well begun is half done!
Avipsa Mahapatra is the climate campaign lead at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), based in Washington, D.C.
“It is now time for [the Parties to the Montreal Protocol] to translate intent to actions in order to swiftly implement the Kigali Amendment and fulfill its potential.”
– Avipsa Mahapatra, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)