Representatives from Australia and most of the other 196 countries that are parties to the Montreal Protocol reached a global agreement on reducing hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) emissions when they met in Kigali, Rwanda, from 10 to 14 October 2016.
The Meeting of the Parties agreed to an international phase-down of global HFC production and imports. The agreement will see an 85 per cent phase-down in developed countries by 2036, an 80 per cent phase-down by 2045 in most developing countries including China, and the remaining developing countries reaching an 85 per cent phase-down by 2047.
A global phase-down will reduce HFC emissions equivalent to 72 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, or the equivalent of well over one year’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
HFCs are a type of synthetic greenhouse gas mostly used in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment to replace ozone depleting substances that have been phased out under the Montreal Protocol. While HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, they are powerful greenhouse gases that survive in the atmosphere for many years.
- Media release: Australia Plays Lead Role to Secure 85 per cent Reduction in Global HFC Emissions — 16 October 2016
Australia played a central role in the negotiations, as a co-chair and consensus-builder. The Kigali Amendment was the culmination of the Dubai Pathway, which was an agreement in 2015, in which all countries agreed they would work to an HFC agreement in 2016.
Australia’s domestic HFC phase-down
A global agreement on HFCs will complement Australia’s domestic HFC phase-down, which was announced by the Government on 27 June 2016.
Australia’s phase-down will start at a faster pace than that agreed at the Kigali meeting, but it will end at the same point as those of most other developed countries.
The agreement has taken place under the Montreal Protocol, which is widely considered to be the most successful environment protection agreement. It has resulted in the eradication of 99 per cent of ozone depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
Phasing out ozone depleting substances has also had a significant climate benefit as ozone depleting substances are also greenhouse gases. The phase-out has prevented emissions equivalent to 135 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
An international HFC phase-down is the most significant amendment to the Montreal Protocol since the CFC and halon phase-out was agreed in 1990. HFC phase-down discussions began in 2009.
The Montreal Protocol is the ideal vehicle to reduce HFC emissions because:
- it was effective in phasing out ozone depleting substances, which are similar to HFCs;
- governments and industry are used to, and comfortable with, the approach;
- it has all the necessary scientific, technical and financial expertise and mechanisms in place.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has described the Kigali Amendment as the most significant environmental breakthrough since the Paris Agreement in 2015, and that it will prevent up to 0.5° Celsius of global warming.
The meeting was attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry who said that ‘adopting an ambitious amendment to phase down the use and production of [HFCs] is likely the single most important step that we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet and protect the planet for future generations to come’.
While all countries at the meeting supported a global HFC phase-down, there were a range of views on exactly what it should look like. Among the issues that needed to be agreed were the differing responsibilities of developed and developing countries.
Developed countries will begin phasing down from 2019, completing the reduction by 2036.
Developing countries will begin and end the phase-down later, allowing more time for alternative technology to mature in their markets. Most of these countries, including China, will freeze the level of HFC consumption in 2024, begin phasing down in 2029, and complete the process by 2045.
A smaller group, including India, will freeze consumption from 2028, begin reducing from 2032, and complete the phase-down by 2047.
This is particularly important as the use of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment is growing rapidly in developing countries with fast-expanding middle classes and hot climates. According to UNEP, HFCs are the world’s fastest growing greenhouse gas, their emissions increasing by up to 10 per cent each year.
A final agreement on the HFC phase-down is a positive marker ahead of the Marrakech Climate Change Conference in November 2016.