The cli­mate’s low-hang­ing fruit

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Next month, sig­na­to­ries to the 1989 Mon­treal Pro­to­col on Sub­stances that De­plete the Ozone Layer will con­vene in Ki­gali, Rwanda, to con­sider an amend­ment to the treaty that would grad­u­ally re­duce, and even­tu­ally elim­i­nate, the use of hy­droflu­o­ro­car­bons. HFCs, which are one of the six main green­house gases, are com­monly used in air con­di­tion­ers and re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems world­wide.

The amend­ment would be a boon for sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, and could pre­vent the re­lease of as much as 100-200 bil­lion tons of cli­mate-chang­ing emis­sions by 2050. That would be enough to take the world a quar­ter of the way to­ward achiev­ing the 2C global-warm­ing tar­get set by the De­cem­ber 2015 Paris cli­mate agree­ment.

The Mon­treal Pro­to­col was es­tab­lished to re­pair the ozone layer, which pro­tects all life on the planet from deadly lev­els of ul­tra­vi­o­let rays. So far, it has been a re­mark­able suc­cess, with nearly 100 ozone-de­stroy­ing chem­i­cals phased out over the past three decades. The ozone layer is heal­ing and, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est es­ti­mates, it could re­cover by 2065, sav­ing tril­lions of dol­lars in global health-care and agri­cul­ture costs.

Much of this im­prove­ment is thanks to HFCs, which are ex­cel­lent ozone-friendly al­ter­na­tives to older chlo­roflu­o­ro­car­bons, which have been phased out. How­ever, HFCs, some of which are 4,000 times more po­tent as green­house gases than car­bon diox­ide, are a disas­ter for cli­mate change, and their use is still in­creas­ing an­nu­ally by 10%.

It thus makes sense to fo­cus on HFCs in tak­ing ac­tion on cli­mate change. For starters, re­duc­ing them can yield eco­nomic ben­e­fits, ow­ing to the sig­nif­i­cant en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency im­prove­ments af­forded by newer air-con­di­tion­ing and re­frig­er­a­tion sys­tems. Just phas­ing in more ef­fi­cient air­con­di­tion­ing sys­tems would be the emis­sions equiv­a­lent of re­tir­ing 2,500 medium-size peak power plants (power plants that come on-stream dur­ing pe­ri­ods of high de­mand, such as dur­ing the sum­mer).

In China, switch­ing to cli­mate-friendly re­frig­er­ants and boost­ing the en­ergy ef­fi­ciency of air con­di­tion­ing and re­frig­er­a­tion could lead to the equiv­a­lent in emis­sions sav­ings of eight Three Gorges hy­dro­elec­tric dams. In In­dia, the switch could be equal to two more of the In­dian govern­ment’s cur­rent Na­tional So­lar Mis­sion, which pro­motes so­lar-en­ergy pen­e­tra­tion and the con­struc­tion of new rooftop and ground-mounted so­lar plants.

Many coun­tries – in­clud­ing the Euro­pean Union and the United States, as well as Belize, Burk­ina Faso, Colom­bia, Egypt, Ser­bia, and Ye­men – al­ready recog­nise these far­reach­ing ben­e­fits and are tak­ing uni­lat­eral ac­tion to phase out HFCs. A strong HFCs agree­ment in Ki­gali would add mo­men­tum to these ef­forts and pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that want to move to newer tech­nolo­gies but cur­rently can’t af­ford it.

In the pri­vate sec­tor, re­tail gi­ants such as Wal­mart, Nes­tle, and Tesco have joined the Con­sumer Goods Fo­rum, a co­op­er­a­tive cli­mate ini­tia­tive, and agreed to phase out prod­ucts with HFCs. The United Na­tions and Green­peace, through an ini­tia­tive called “Re­frig­er­ants, Nat­u­rally!” are work­ing with Coca-Cola, Pep­sico, Red­bull, and Unilever to do the same.

The Ki­gali meet­ing

is

set

to

yield

a

strong HFCs amend­ment. How­ever, some coun­tries in es­pe­cially hot parts of the world heav­ily worry that cli­mate-friendly al­ter­na­tives for their es­sen­tial air con­di­tion­ing may not func­tion as well. Any agree­ment can ac­count for those con­cerns through a tem­po­rary ex­emp­tion for those coun­tries, while oth­ers move ahead with newer sys­tems to demon­strate their ef­fec­tive­ness.

A warm­ing planet is al­ready hav­ing a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on some of the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions, and it will only con­tinue to do so. Ul­ti­mately, all coun­tries will have to find a way for­ward on re­duc­ing HFCs and cli­mate change gen­er­ally, through na­tional ac­tion plans and emis­sions re­duc­tions agreed to un­der the 2015 Paris agree­ment. Frame­works es­tab­lished by sis­ter agree­ments like the Mon­treal Pro­to­col can help to do this.

HFCs will also be a cen­tral topic at the next ma­jor UN cli­mate change con­fer­ence, COP22, which con­venes in Mar­rakesh, Morocco, in Novem­ber. We are con­fi­dent that the gov­ern­ments pre­par­ing to meet in Ki­gali un­der­stand the need for a strong HFCs amend­ment, which would give mo­men­tum to other agenda items, such as the UN Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals, in Mar­rakesh.

If the world is to suc­ceed in quickly re­duc­ing global emis­sions to pre­vent cli­mate change from reach­ing cat­a­strophic lev­els, re­duc­ing HFCs is a sen­si­ble – per­haps the most sen­si­ble – first step.

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