The Buildup in Bangkok: Will Talks Start on Curbing HFC Super Pollutants?

Delegates from around the world have gathered in Bangkok for the summer meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol, the 25-year-old treaty that has saved the ozone layer and slowed the pace of global warming.  On the table again this year are two proposed amendments to phase down production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – the super potent heat-trapping chemicals used in refrigeration, air conditioning and other applications – one proposed by the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, and the other by Micronesia, the Maldives, and Morocco.  (Both proposals can be found here.)

Here’s the big question:  When the HFC amendments come up on the agenda on Tuesday, will China, India, and Brazil allow negotiations to start?  Or will one or more of these countries continue blocking HFC negotiations, as they have in recent years

There’s lots of support for addressing HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.  Over the last two years, more than 110 countries – both developed and developing – have called for starting negotiations on HFC amendments.  And calls for phasing down HFCs have come from an increasing number of other international forums, from the Rio+20 summit to the Arctic Council

In a significant breakthrough just two weeks ago, Chinese President Xi and U.S. President Obama agreed “to work together and with other countries through multilateral approaches that include using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, while continuing to include HFCs within the scope of UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol provisions for accounting and reporting of emissions.”

And just today, in India, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry called for U.S.-Indian cooperation on climate change, acknowledging that “the worst consequences of the climate crisis will confront people who are the least able to be able to cope with them,” and emphasizing “the imperative for us is to act forcefully and cooperatively on climate change.”  Kerry urged:  “We can work together to globally phase down hydrofluorocarbons, which is a potent greenhouse gas that’s found in our air conditioners, our refrigerators, our industrial appliances. And we can eliminate the equivalent of roughly two years’ worth of current global emissions by the year 2050 if we were to do that.”

Last week, the European Union took a key step towards adopting HFC phase-down legislation for its 28 member nations.  And on Tuesday, President Obama is going to lay out his climate action plan for the U.S.

Referring to some of these developments, Marco Gonzalez, executive secretary of the Montreal Protocol secretariat, said this to open the meeting today:  "Such developments are also being heard loud and clear by the market and because of this the market is also responding.  The developments seem to have also helped to bring about a renewed sense of optimism about climate solutions."

The simple question on the table for tomorrow’s talks in Bangkok is this:  Will China, India, and Brazil allow the parties to form a “contact group” to begin detailed talks and negotiations over the proposed HFC amendments? 

Hopefully, China will support this step, given the agreement by Presidents Xi and Obama to work together on phasing down HFC production and consumption “using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol.”  There are many ways an aggressive HFC transition can be to China's advantage.

What will India’s position be?  Many leading Indian industries are looking closely at lower climate impact alternatives for room and vehicle air conditioners, two of the biggest and fastest growing sectors using HFCs in India.  Some products, such as room air conditioners containing hydrocarbon coolants, are already on the market in India.  On Wednesday here in Bangkok, NRDC and partner organizations will present the results of a study of the “business case” for climate-friendly options in these two sectors in India.  There are signs that the Indian government is investigating alternatives and assessing its transition needs.  Will India allow the parties to start consideration of the HFC amendments? 

And what will be Brazil’s position?  In past meetings, Brazil has joined India and China in opposing HFC negotiations.  This contrasts with the position of South Africa – the fourth member of the so-called “BASIC” group of the big four developing countries.  South Africa announced last year that it favors starting the HFC talks.

Marco Gonzalez summed it up nicely:  "The success of the Protocol has served as both an inspiration to all, and a stepping stone in the architecture of global environmental treaties.  It serves as a hopeful sign that environmental treaties can work, and that this generation has both the common sense and ability to break down national differences and work to save this planet for future generations."

Tune in tomorrow for our next exciting episode!