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North American Countries Target “Super” Greenhouse Gases Through Strengthened Ozone Treaty

The US, Canada, and Mexico have submitted a proposal to strengthen climate protection under the Montreal Protocol— the international treaty that phases out the production of a number of substances responsible for ozone depletion. The proposal targets the production and use of HFCs, a group of “super” greenhouse gases.

Climate protection from the Montreal and Kyoto protocols. Source: IGSD. Click to enlarge.

If accepted by the other Montreal Protocol Parties, the proposal would deliver climate mitigation equivalent to preventing more than 100 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. This is 10 to 20 times the mitigation under the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period assuming full compliance.

The Federated States of Micronesia submitted a similar proposal on HFCs as well. This is the fourth year in a row the tiny island nation has lead efforts to strengthen climate protection under the Montreal Protocol.

HFCs are a big target that can be eliminated through the world’s best environmental treaty, and at a very low cost—maybe $4 billion. The North American Parties know that eliminating one of the six Kyoto gases will give us the fast mitigation we need to avoid passing tipping points for abrupt and potentially catastrophic climate impacts. That would be one down, and five to go. But first we need to bring the rest of the Parties on board

—Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

The Montreal Protocol has already phased out nearly 100 dangerous gases and chemicals, reducing climate emissions by up to 222 billion tonnes of CO2-eq. Because HFCs have the same uses as earlier chemicals controlled by the Montreal Protocol, the treaty is equipped to ensure a cost-effective, efficient, and orderly phase-down of HFCs. HFC emissions controlled under the Kyoto Protocol would not be affected by either the North American or Micronesia proposal.

The phase-down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is essential for achieving the science-based goal of more than 100 countries to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to 350 ppm and limit temperature increases to a global average of 1.5 °C, says IGSD.

Uncontrolled growth of HFCs will offset the benefits of reducing carbon dioxide. The only way we can gain ground is by phasing down HFCs and other non-CO2 greenhouse gases and aerosols, along with aggressive CO2 cuts.

—Durwood Zaelke

More than 40 Parties expressed their support for taking action on HFCs by joining a declaration by Micronesia at the last Montreal Protocol meeting in November 2009. However, a series of challenges kept the Parties from reaching consensus on the HFC proposals.

Last year, the HFC phase-down was considered premature by some Parties, who wanted to first agree on the funding for the accelerated HCFC phase-out agreed to in 2007. Earlier this month, the funding issue was resolved when guidelines were agreed upon for releasing the $490 million for phasing out HCFCs. The decision was made by the Executive Committee of the Montreal Protocol’s funding mechanism, known as the Multilateral Fund.

The Multilateral Fund also agreed to pay a 25% premium for climate benefits when phasing out HCFCs, above and beyond the ozone-only cost-effective thresholds, where the project will provide climate benefits. This provides an incentive for countries to choose energy efficient, low-global warming potential (GWP) replacements instead of high-GWP HFCs when phasing out HCFCs. This is the first time any treaty has taken this approach.

This year, there is also more information available about a growing choice of alternatives for at least half of HFC use, including for mobile air conditioning, representing one-third of global HFC use, and foams, representing one-fifth of use.

Another issue last year was the insistence by some Parties that a phase-down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol should wait for the Copenhagen climate negotiations to play out, IGSD said.

This could be the single biggest climate play this year. Passing it up would be Planetary negligence. The US has taken the first big step in the right direction, but success will require follow-through, including Presidential leadership in the run-up to the annual meeting in November.

Carbon dioxide is the long-term bad guy, and rightfully deserves attention, but we won’t even have the chance to fight that battle if we ignore the near-term forcers.

—Durwood Zaelke


  • Mario Molina, Durwood Zaelke, K. Madhava Sarma, Stephen O. Andersen, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Donald Kaniaru (2009) Reducing abrupt climate change risk using the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory actions to complement cuts in CO2 PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.0902568106


Sanity Chk

Along with HFCs, governments need to come up with a plan to ameliorate the sublimation of the massive amounts of methane ices that are now warming in the arctic. Methane is many times more potent a GHG than CO2.

Henry Gibson

This is really a non issue. It is a waste of time and effort compared to the bigger issue of energy supply and financial stability of the world. The main reason US and European chemical companies allowed the banning of clorofluorocarbons was that the were not making much money on them anymore and China could produce them more cheaply. China and other countries are still allowed to produce and use clorofluorocarbons.

The disappearance of the Ozone layer would not have caused as much human demise as the current high cost of energy driven by speculation into real commodities instead of financial dirivatives.

The patents, if any, for HCFCs have expired and new expensive patented refrigerants are being produced. These are unnecessary as almost the entire production of refrigerators in Europe has been using very safe refrigerators using simple isopropane and propane. These gases or similar ones may also be used in automobiles.

To assert that an automobile with a tank filled with gasoline is statistically more safe when the airconditioner uses a nonflamable airconditioner coolant is mere foolishness and fraud. The expense of reconditioning a simple hydrocarbon airconditioning system after an automobile accident is much cheaper for the insurance company, and number of injuries to occupants of automobiles due to failed airconditioning systems is vanishingly small. ..HG..


Study looking for problem.

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