John Kerry: HFCs are a critical piece of the climate puzzle

US Secretary of State tells envoys at Montreal Protocol talks in Vienna their moment to contribute to a global warming solution has come

(Pic: Flickr/State Department)


Week after week, month after month, year after year, we continue to see new evidence of the danger climate change poses to our planet. Last year was the hottest in recorded history – by far – but 2016 is on track to be even hotter. 

Last month was the warmest June scientists have ever logged – but it was also the 14th consecutive month to break the monthly global temperature record.  The past decade was the hottest we’ve measured, and the one before that the second hottest, and the one before that, the third hottest.

Climate change is happening – and it is happening quicker than most of us ever anticipated.

Last year, I joined many of you in Paris to gavel in the strongest, most ambitious global climate agreement in history – an agreement we all have an interest in bringing into force as soon as possible.

But the Paris Agreement is not a silver bullet.  Nor was it expected to be.  It was meant to send an unmistakable signal to all – to the private sector, to governments at every level and citizens in every country – that the whole world understands the enormity of the climate threat, and that we are prepared, as we must be, to take the necessary steps to address it.

Everyone in this room knows what global cooperation can accomplish.  It’s why we’re here today.  In the 1980s, many scientists feared that ozone depletion was “irreversible,” and the headlines in many newspapers declared that nations were “powerless to stem [the] growing loss of ozone.”

But the Montreal Protocol proved the pessimists and naysayers wrong.  Virtually all parties have met their obligations under the accord.  Nearly 100 of the most ozone-depleting substances have been phased out.  As a result, the hole in the ozone is shrinking and on its way to full repair.

Now, obviously, that’s the good news.  The bad news is that, in too many cases, these substances banned by the Montreal Protocol have been replaced by hydrofluorocarbons – HFCs – which are safer for the ozone, but are exceptionally potent drivers of climate change – thousands of times more potent, for example, than CO2.

And the use of hydrofluorocarbons is growing.  Already, the HFCs used in refrigerators, air conditioners, inhalers, and other items are emitting an entire gigaton of carbon dioxide-equivalent pollution into the atmosphere annually.  If that sounds like a lot; it is.  In fact, it’s equivalent to the emisssions from nearly 300 coal-fired power plants every single year.

In Paris, the world set the goal of limiting the Earth’s warming to well below two degrees Celsius.  Amending the Montreal Protocol to phase-down HFC use could help us avoid a full half-degree.

In the fight against climate change, even modest wins do not come along very often.  But if we can come together to adopt the phase-down amendment our nations have been discussing for years, it would be a very big win.

And we’re well on our way to achieving it.  As Parties to the Montreal Protocol, we have already agreed on the need to address HFCs, we’ve already agreed that an amendment to the Protocol is the way to do it, and we’ve already agreed that 2016 is the year to make that happen.  Here in Vienna, we’ve already generated solutions to the major challenges the Parties identified last fall in Dubai.

Cooler coolants: closing in on a climate deal in Vienna

So today, we have in front of us the full skeleton of what we’re working toward.  To delay further action – after the remarkable progress we’ve already made – would be irresponsible.  Why?  Because it would slow the powerful momentum we’ve been building toward a safer, more sustainable, and more prosperous future for our planet.

I wanted to come to Vienna this week because there cannot be a shadow of a doubt about where the United States stands – we’re all in.  We’re committed to progress here, to success in Kigali, and to accelerating the effort to address climate change in our country and in every corner of the globe.

And I want to underscore – we understand that, while an HFC phase-down amendment is a critical piece of the climate puzzle – that doesn’t mean it will be easy to implement.  It’s going to be challenging – we know that.

But the reason the Montreal Protocol has been so successful is because cooperation is at its core.  Under its provisions, no country is or has ever been expected to go it alone.

Funding mechanism

That’s why the Multilateral Fund exists – to assist countries in implementing their obligations.  The United States and our G7 partners, along with Nordic nations, together account for about 75 percent of the Fund’s donor base, and every one of our leaders has already stated our intent – publicly – to provide additional funding to help developing countries implement an HFC amendment.

In 1987, the Parties to the Montreal Protocol demonstrated an unprecedented level of cooperation in the face of an unprecedented challenge – cooperation that has continued to this very day and succeeded in overcoming hurdles that seemed insurmountable.

Last year in Dubai, the Parties pledged their cooperation once again, to address another great challenge.

By joining together to fulfill that commitment; by adopting an amendment to phase-down the use of HFCs; we can honor the legacy our predecessors; move closer to the goal set in Paris; and – most importantly – help protect the future health and livability of the only planet we have and to do so for generations to come.

My colleagues, the way forward is clearly marked; let’s go on ahead – now, this year, together – and get the job done.

This is an extract from the speech made by John Kerry on 22 July 2016 at UN talks on the Montreal Protocol 

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