HFC phase-out in sight as 2016 deadline set

Countries agree in principle to ban super-warming gases but defer details after India, Saudi Arabia raise objections

Air conditioning units hang from the side of a building in Hong Kong. Their growing use is growing 10-15% a year, intensifying global warming (Flickr/ Niall Kennedy)

Air conditioning units hang from the side of a building in Hong Kong. HFCs usage is growing 10-15% a year contributing to climate change (Flickr/ Niall Kennedy)

By Alex Pashley

The world is closer than ever to banning synthetic refrigerants accelerating global warming, after envoys in Dubai agreed to finalise a deal in a year’s time.

A Montreal Protocol meeting committed in principle to a phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), but has delayed the details until 2016, after India and Gulf States refused to sign off a deal.

Designed in the 1990s as ozone-friendly alternatives to CFCs, the group of gases are potent warming agents, up to 10,000 times as strong as carbon dioxide.

A phase-down could reduce warming 0.5C by the end of the century and prevent the release of up to 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2050, experts say.

Delegates hailed progress at the close of the five-day session, which formally debated a ban for the first time.

Report: Countries near deal to phase out super warming HFCs

“After seven years of efforts, we have at last agreed to amend the Montreal Protocol next year to phase down HFCs,” said Jeem Lippwe, a negotiator for Micronesia.

“This is a significant win for the climate system and for the momentum of multilateral climate cooperation heading into Paris.”

US lead envoy Gina McCarthy said the meeting boosted chances of a global warming accord being struck in the French capital next month.

States like the US, Mexico and Pacific islands wanted a deal, but India and Gulf States demanded delays, according to Durwood Zaelke at US think tank, IGSD.

Gulf states have argued safer alternatives aren’t as effective at cooling in hot climates. India, a major producer of the chemicals, wanted to allow its industry longer to adapt.

“If there’s a silver lining to this slow deliberation, it’s that the parties will be able to implement a strict phase down schedule much faster than usual,” Zaelke said.

A number of meetings will be held throughout next year, including an extraordinary session, to agree access to finance and technology.

HFCs have risen from negligible levels to nearly 2% of global greenhouse gases today, according to the UN climate science panel, and are set to accelerate further without intervention.

The Montreal Protocol, the world’s first environmental treaty signed in 1987, will have avoided US$1.8 trillion in health costs by 2060, UN Environment Programme chief Achim Steiner told the event. By restoring the ozone layer, it is preventing skin cancer from exposure to UV rays.

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