Montreal Protocol Talks Begin, U.S. HFC Prospects Brighten

The Montreal Protocol's 31st Meeting of Parties in Rome.

Countries come together this week in Rome for the annual meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful environmental treaty. NRDC is on hand as negotiators tackle the next steps needed to protect both the ozone layer and the climate from harmful fluorocarbons and other man-made gases. These chemicals are used as refrigerants in cooling appliances and other specific applications.

This week’s meeting will feature the latest chapter in the high-stakes international who-dun-it concerning unexpected emissions of CFC-11, an ozone-depleting chemical banned worldwide a decade ago. Two years ago, scientists identified a spike in CFC-11 emissions. Subsequent monitoring has demonstrated that at least 40-60% of these emissions came from two provinces in eastern mainland China, and additional research has consistently pointed to illegal production. Pressure is building on China to curtail these emissions and to make up for the damage the emissions have done to climate and the ozone layer.

The parties will also continue steps to implement the global HFC phasedown agreement struck in the 2016 Kigali Amendment. The amendment took effect this year. Many developing countries will begin tabulating their baseline HFC allocations in 2020, so there’s much work to do. Terms will also be set for next year’s negotiation to replenish the Multilateral Fund, the financial implementation arm of the Montreal Protocol.

The action unfolds against a backdrop of major progress on HFCs back home. On October 30th, Sens. John Kennedy (R.-La.) and Tom Carper (D.-De.) introduced the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2019, Senate bill number 2754, which calls for a U.S. phasedown of HFCs between now and 2036 on a schedule consistent with the Kigali Amendment. The bill, anticipated by industry and environmental groups, builds on Title VI of the Clean Air Act, the law that underwrote the U.S. phaseouts of CFCs and HCFCs over the last 30 years.

Under the proposed law, companies will receive annual, tradable HFCs allowances that decrease gradually as the market for alternatives takes hold. The bill leaves open the door to a faster phasedown and provides EPA authority to require companies to use alternatives in place of HFCs in specific applications where safer alternatives are available. Authority is also provided to curb HFC leakage from appliances during operations and at-end-of-life disposal.

Meanwhile, state governments continue to press forward regulating HFCs. Ten states have enacted or announced plans to curb HFCs in uses where there are safe alternatives: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Washington, and, recently, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. More states are expected to follow suit. State action will help cut HFC emissions in the near term and ensure the national HFC phasedown kicks off smoothly.

All in all, this year’s meeting has a chance to steadily progress the work of the Montreal Protocol. If countries can cooperate to address illegal CFC-11 production and lay a solid foundation for talks to top up the Multilateral Fund next year, we stand all the more chance to smoothly, quickly phase down HFCs, a 70 gigaton-CO2e prize through midcentury.