'Urgency and Flexibility To Save Our One Planet’

Opening of the high-level segment at the 28th MOP in Kigali, Rwanda
Credit: Nehmat Kaur

The title quotes Ms. Irene Diaz, Costa Rica’s Deputy Minister of Energy and Environmental Management, who said these words at the opening discussion of the high-level ministerial segment of the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda today. Amidst intense negotiations to reach an amendment to the Protocol, key high-level ministers—including those from India, Rwanda, Nigeria, United States, European Union, Costa Rica—addressed Parties on the need to phase down highly potent global warming gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with a spirit of multilateral collaboration and strong ambition. The ministers set forth inspiring optimism to support the negotiations and a positive outcome by the end of this week.  

His Excellency (H.E.) President Paul Kagame of Rwanda said “we are at the cusp of momentous progress with a chance to take a major step forward in the fight to limit the effects of climate change on our environment and our people”. Evoking Mahatma Gandhi, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program Erik Solheim urged the Parties to be the change they wish to see in this world.  

HFCs are gases used mostly in air conditioning and refrigeration, for making insulating foams, and in some aerosol products. A kilogram of HFCs packs thousands of times the heat-trapping power of a kilogram of carbon dioxide. Though accounting for only 1-2 percent of total warming now, HFCs are the fastest growing climate pollutants, due to surging global demand for air conditioning as incomes rise in emerging economies such as India. As negotiations progress in Kigali, and high-level ministers get down to the brass tacks of an amendment, both developed and developing countries are showing the motivation and the optimism in reaching a phase-down amendment this week.

All Parties, motivated to reach an amendment, have room to show more ambition and reach a stronger agreement. An early, ambitious phasedown of HFCs has the potential to shave off half a degree of expected warming by the end of the century—the single biggest step that the world can take to meet our global climate targets. The potential agreement under the Montreal Protocol, therefore, is critical to upholding the Paris Agreement’s ambition of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius. 

Both developed and developing countries are pushing for greater ambition from each other, putting in play an estimated 7 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. That is equal to almost 3 times the annual CO2 emissions of India or 1.3 times the annual CO2 emissions of the United States. My colleagues David Doniger and Alexander Hillbrand elaborate on this call for greater ambition here.

As Erik Solheim said, it is important to remember that climate change and the Montreal Protocol HFC amendment are about people. The warming of the planet is impacting populations the world over, especially those in developing countries from Asia, Latin America, and Africa. With devastating heat waves, floods and droughts that have the potential to adversely impact millions of people, particularly vulnerable communities, climate change becomes a significant threat to productivity and economic growth. As Mr. Solheim pointed out during his opening remarks, “no country, no matter how powerful, can solve a global problem alone”, and in the “Montreal Protocol spirit of togetherness, change, flexibility and ambition,” Mr. Solheim urged Parties to reach a positive outcome this week.

Not only does a phasedown of HFCs help avoid further damage to climate, it presents an economic opportunity for countries worldwide. It presents an opportunity for technology innovation and creating millions of green jobs in developing countries with growing manufacturing and service sectors. H.E. Paul Kagame noted that the world has “experienced the largest expansion of prosperity ever recorded” while healing the ozone layer under the Montreal Protocol.

For India, an ambitious agreement poses significant gains. Businesses in India can seek funds to cover costs for transitioning to better alternatives. Since the technology is rapidly changing, Indian companies can also look ahead and avoid obsolete technology while receiving transition costs from the MLF, an opportunity for Indian businesses to modernize and access global markets.  Under the agreement, India could receive funding to spur energy efficiency improvements in appliances, further locking in energy and costs savings, while making air conditioners cheaper to own and operate. By reducing peak electricity demand—which is directly correlated with air conditioning use—India can move towards energy security and energy access for millions who are still living without access to modern electricity.

There is tremendous action in domestic markets globally. Just today, in Kigali, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, led by the Minister Anil Dave and Secretary Ajay Narayan Jha, announced that it has passed a domestic order on continuing the incineration of HFC-23, a dangerous chemical by-product of HCFC-22 manufacturing, with a warming potential of 14,800 times as that of CO2. This is a significant positive development from India by internalizing the costs for destroying HFC-23.

As the week draws to an end and countries hammer out the specifics of a deal, many factors will define the ambition and strength of the agreement. The most key characteristic of an ambitious agreement would be an early start and a stringent phasedown schedule. We are looking to all countries, including India, to come together for early action. As India’s Environment Minister said earlier today, “countries have to march ahead, and not leave anyone behind.” India can lead countries to ambition and success in Kigali and secure another historic global climate victory together with the ratification of the 2015 Paris Agreement. With the future of our only planet on the line, India can agree to take early action and play a crucial role in ensuring that all countries come together to fulfill their collective responsibility and protect the planet for generations to come. 

“Let’s not only get it done. Let’s get it done well.”

- President of Rwanda, H.E. Paul Kagame


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