What’s the news?
- In a major action to address climate change, the US Senate ratified an international agreement that compels the United States and other countries to limit use of hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning that are far more powerful than carbon dioxide.
What are Hydrofluorocarbons?
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a group of industrial chemicals primarily used for cooling and refrigeration.
- HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases and a substantial number are short-lived climate pollutants with a lifetime of between 15 and 29 years in the atmosphere.
- HFCs are widespread in air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosols, foams and other products.
- HFCs were introduced as non-ozone depleting alternatives to support the timely phase out of CFCs and HCFCs under Montreal Protocol.
- While these chemicals do not deplete the stratospheric ozone layer, HFCs were found to be extremely potent in causing global warming. Some of them have high Global Warming Potentials (GWPs) ranging from 12 to 14,000.
- So, the HFCs solved one problem, but were contributing in a major way to another. But these could not be eliminated under the original provisions of Montreal Protocol which was meant to phase-out ozone-destroying chemicals only. The Kigali Amendment enabled the Montreal Protocol to mandate the elimination of HFCs as well.
What is the Montreal Protocol?
- The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an international environmental treaty that regulates the production and consumption of nearly 100 man-made chemicals referred to as ozone depleting substances (ODS) including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).
- The stratospheric ozone layer protects humans and the environment from harmful levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. The widespread use of ODS had caused a hole in the Ozone layer of the atmosphere, which allowed some harmful radiation to reach the earth. These radiations were considered potential health hazards.
- Adopted in 1987, the Montreal Protocol is the only UN treaty that has been ratified by every country.
- Under this treaty, all parties have specific responsibilities related to the phase out of the different groups of ODS, control of ODS trade, annual reporting of data, national licensing systems to control ODS imports and exports, and other matters.
- Developing and developed countries have equal but differentiated responsibilities along with binding, time-targeted and measurable commitments.
- The Montreal Protocol has been a far more effective and successful agreement than the climate change instruments. It has already resulted in the phase-out of 98.6% of ozone-depleting substances. The remaining 1.4% are the HCFCs that are in the process of being transitioned.
- The Parties to the Montreal Protocol reached agreement at their 28th Meeting of the Parties on 15 October 2016 in Kigali, Rwanda. The Agreement particularly aims at phasing out the production and consumption of Hydrofluorocarbons which were first introduced as a substitute to ODSs namely CFCs and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons HCFCs.
- Before the middle of this century, current HFC use has to be curtailed by at least 85 per cent. Countries have different timelines to do this. India has to achieve this target by 2047 while the developed countries have to do it by 2036. China and some other countries have a target of 2045.
- While the reductions for the rich countries have to begin immediately, India, and some other countries, have to begin cutting their HFC use only from 2031.
- The agreement came into force on 1st January 2019 and as of 2022 138 countries have ratified the Kigali amendment so far.
- The phasing down of HFCs is expected to prevent the emission to the tune of 105 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, which would potentially help avoid a rise in global temperature up to 0.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.
- Kigali Agreement legally binds the signatory countries with non-compliance measures.
- India has already ratified the Kigali amendment and it will complete its phase down of HFCs in 4 steps from 2032 onwards with cumulative reduction of 10% in 2032, 20% in 2037, 30% in 2042 and 85% in 2047.