Some Replacements for CFC-Containing Refrigerants Much More Potent GHGs than CO2

While international climate talks remain deadlocked, the Montreal Protocol has been methodically eliminating some of the worst chemicals contributing to global warming.

International ozone negotiators meeting in Montreal last week approved country plans to phase out ozone depleting substances (ODS) that are also super greenhouse gases (GHGs) that harm the global climate. By 2015, the reductions approved last week will prevent more than 62 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions.

From 25-29 July, negotiators at the Multilateral Fund, the financial body established to assist developing countries to meet their commitments under the Montreal Protocol, assessed ODS phase-out plans submitted by dozens of countries including China, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico.

Countries converting from ODS traditionally have chosen to convert to high-GWP hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), chemicals that do not harm the ozone layer but that are super-greenhouse gasses with global warming potentials (GWPs) hundreds to thousand of times greater than CO2. Developed countries that have already phased out ODS have switched to high-GWP alternatives in about 75 percent of instances. However at last week's meeting, many phase-out plans that proposed to convert to HFC-410A and other high-GWP alternatives were either revised or rejected.

"The rejection of phase-out plans that proposed the use high-GWP alternatives signals that the Montreal Protocol is committed to protecting climate," said Mark W. Roberts, international policy adviser to the EIA, who attended the meeting. He added, "The world is finally recognizing that there's simply no reason to fund transitions to super greenhouse gases when environmentally responsible alternatives are available."

While the majority of conversions were from HCFCs to low-GWP alternatives, several plans were approved that will "phase-in" high-GWP HFCs in refrigeration and air conditioning, primarily as a result of funding constraints that are limiting complete adoption of climate-friendly alternatives. HFC-410A, which is 1,890 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2, was approved for use in air conditioning in China, Mexico and Lebanon. These conversions will negate millions of tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions reductions and lock these countries into climate-damaging technologies for decades.

"The decisions being made are a signal to all countries that HFCs are a dead-end technology and that enormous climate benefits are available through the Montreal Protocol's HCFC phase-out,” said Clare Perry, senior campaigner at EIA. "An even greater climate payoff could be achieved by slightly increasing the Multilateral Fund's budget so that HFCs are not unnecessarily phased in," she said.

A second meeting of the Montreal Protocol's began yesterday to discuss wider issues including the next tranche of funding available for the HCFC phase-out, as well as proposals to begin a phase-out of HFCs.