By: Jamie Layne
On September 22, 2016, the United States hosted leaders from over one-hundred countries in New York to discuss a myriad of issues, including climate change.
One of the most successful climate change policies ever implemented was an international treaty called the Montreal Protocol which was ratified in 1987 by 197 nations, including all United Nations members and the European Union.
The Montreal Protocol calls for all signing countries to phase out chemicals responsible for ozone depletion. The most famous chemical that was phased out was chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used in refrigerators and aerosol cans. In 1974, scientists discovered that CFCs were accumulating in the atmosphere and causing the ozone to deplete rapidly. By 1985, scientists discovered a large hole over Antarctica which could increase the threat of skin cancer and endanger the world’s agricultural production. Two years later, world leaders came together to sign the Montreal Protocol which eventually neutralized chemicals like CFCs in order to save the ozone layer. Since then, the protocol has been used to phase out over 100 dangerous chemicals and has prevented the equivalent of more than 135 billion tons of carbon-dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere.
The United States has begun to push for an amendment within the Montreal Protocol that would reduce the use of manmade long-lasting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are primarily used in refrigeration, air conditioning and foam insulation. The White House released a statement on September 22, 2016 stating “HFCs...can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. If left unchecked, global HFC emissions could grow to be equivalent to 19 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions in 2050.”
The U.S. is not the only country pushing for reform. After recent talks with President Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping has also stated that he wants a quick response to HFCs. Both countries, in addition to African countries and low lying islands who are already feeling the effects of climate change, said that they would be prepared to commit to this amendment as early as 2023. Other countries including Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia said they would be prepared by 2025, while India is pushing towards an even later date in 2030. During the September 22 conference in New York, over 100 countries signaled that there should be an “early freeze date” for this chemical.
If ratified, such an amendment would be a big boost to efforts in curtailing global warming given that the Earth’s average temperature is now forecast to have warmed up by .5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 if HFCs remain unregulated. This is an important step with regards to the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the Earth’s temperature rise overall by 2 degrees Celsius. This amendment to the Montreal Protocol will directly impact the success of the Paris Agreement.
The other important factor in pushing this amendment through is making sure that all developing countries can meet the goal of reducing HFCs, since it can be expensive to transition from one chemical to another. After the Montreal Protocol was ratified, for instance, wealthy nations donated money to developing countries to help phase out CFCs. Now, the same concept is being drawn upon. The White House has stated that, “a group of donor countries and philanthropists announced their intent to provide $80 million USD in support to help countries in need of assistance (i.e., Article 5 countries) implement an ambitious amendment and improve energy efficiency.”
Global leaders will have the opportunity to finalize negotiations to reduce HFCs at the Rwanda Protocol Meeting of the Parties in October. We shall have to wait and see if history repeats itself.
Jamie Layne is an executive office intern for the EastWest Institute. She recently graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s in History and Political Science. She is currently applying to graduate schools to obtain her master’s in International Affairs.