The UN community of nations made substantial headway to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions this past week. Meeting in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, representatives adopted an amendment to The Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances that will see production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) phased out worldwide.
The addition of HFCs to the Montreal Protocol is that latest in a growing series of UN member nation actions to phase out production and use of ozone-depleting substances according to schedules and institutional mechanisms set out in the landmark multilateral treaty.
In addition to helping reduce destruction of the earth’s protective ozone layer, realizing the Kigali Amendment’s goals will provide a big boost to UN member nations’ efforts to mitigate and adapt to global climate change.
A second landmark UN climate agreement
National governments have been ratifying the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Paris Accord, which is now set to come into force November 4, according to the UN. It’s projected that phasing out HFCs and other ozone-depleting substances as per the Montreal Protocol will reduce global mean temperature rise over the course of the 21st century by a substantial 0.5 degrees Celsius.
Adoption of the Montreal Protocol followed the discovery and recognition of the threat posed by an expansion of a hole in the atmosphere’s ozone layer centered high in the atmosphere above high latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere.
Threatening all life on Earth, scientists in the 1970’s discovered that a variety of manufactured chemicals used widely for heating, cooling, refrigeration and other purposes, such as pressurized spray aerosols and air conditioners, was eroding the earth’s ozone layer and allowing harmful solar radiation to reach the earth’s surface.
Enacted in 1987, the Montreal Protocol originally set out a timetable and mechanisms to phase out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other substances scientists discovered were eroding ozone in the atmosphere.
UN representatives have been adding to that list as new scientific research has revealed the role other substances play in eroding the ozone layer and manufacturers have been working to develop less harmful alternatives as they shut down production and sales of ozone-depleting chemicals proscribed by the Montreal Protocol.
Boosting sustainable development and protecting the environment
The Montreal Protocol is the first – and still the only – multilateral environmental governance accord adopted by all 197 UN member countries. It has served as a template for subsequent UN environmental governance agreements, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
It has come to light that CFCs, HFCs, and other ozone-depleting chemicals have a high Global Warming Potential (GWP), which means they add to the Greenhouse Effect, which prevents heat radiated from the earth’s surface to pass through the atmosphere into outer space.
UN representatives have been working to produce a final draft of the Kigali Amendment for years. In late 2015 all 197 UN member nations agreed to draft an amendment to the Montreal Protocol calling for phasing out production and use of ozone-depleting substances that contribute to climate change. Details of the ¨Dubai Pathway,¨ as it was labeled, were set out a Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in the United Arab Emirates’ city.
¨Hydrofluorocarbons are powerful, short-lived greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. As hydrofluorocarbons are also the fastest-growing of all greenhouse gases, curbing their use will help limit near-term warming of the planet,¨ UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon stated.
Phasing out HFCs will also boost efforts to realize the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the strategic agenda that succeeds the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and will guide UN activities for the next 15 years.
¨Significantly, the global phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons could avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of this century, providing a major boost for efforts to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C, as stated in the Paris Agreement, and to pursue efforts towards 1.5°C,¨ the UN Secretary General pointed out.
*Image credits: UN; NRDC