Gulf states win concessions in HFC phase-out talks

Hot countries offered four-year grace period to comply with rules to replace potent warming gases in air conditioning

HFCs are used in cooling and air-conditioning systems (credit: Pixabay)

HFCs are used in cooling and air-conditioning systems (credit: Pixabay)

By Alex Pashley

Diplomats are closing in on a deal to eliminate potent greenhouse gases, after agreeing concessions to hot countries on Friday.

Nearly 200 countries are negotiating a phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used in fridges, air conditioners and aerosols, under the Montreal Protocol.

Experts say it is a vital lever in countering climate change, avoiding warming of up to 0.5C and 100 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent this century.

But hot countries argue climate-friendly substitutes are poorer coolants and doubt wealthy nations will properly compensate manufacturers facing fresh costs.

Report: Intense heatwaves could become ‘annual events’ by 2075

The sticking point threatened to stall progress as envoys scrambled to ready the deal for rubber-stamping at annual talks in October.

“The alternatives are not feasible for the Gulf countries because of the high ambient temperatures,” Kuwait’s lead negotiator Yaqoub Al-Moutaq told Climate Home.

“There are some promising things on the horizon, but not on the table.”

A compromise submitted by Gulf states and the US would give about 35 countries in the Middle East and North Africa a four-year grace period for air conditioners. To qualify, the average temperature must exceed 35C for at least two months a year.

(credit: Environmental Investigation Agency)

Green <30C. Yellow 30-40C. Red >40C (credit: Environmental Investigation Agency)

Campaigners were sceptical the exemption, which is renewable, was necessary, pointing to recent US laboratory findings alternatives performed as effectively and efficiently as HFCs in warm climates.

But it was a “small price to pay” for reaching a deal, Durwood Zaelke, president of Washington think tank IGSD, said by email.

“Given the grace period, and the speed of market innovation, it’s likely no-one will ever need to rely on the exemption, although [high ambient temperature] countries find it reassuring to have it as an insurance policy,” he said.

The emissions freed from the rules were “very limited”, added Steve Seidel at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES).

Delegates also reached a tentative agreement on finance to help developing countries to convert to less potent alternatives.

Draft proposals promise cash for manufacturers shuttering production lines and servicing costs for companies replacing the coolants.

Yet the Multilateral Fund, a dedicated mechanism which since 1991 has paid out US$3.3 billion to phase out HFC’s ozone-depleting predecessors, will need fresh funds.

Report: US freezing out potent HFCs with fresh curbs 

The amount of cash depends on the speed of the reduction schedule, says Avipsa Mahapatra at the Environmental Investigation Agency, a US-based advocacy group.

The EU aims to cut usage 79% between 2015 and 2030, while the US has outlawed certain blends. But rates of reductions in the developing world are uncertain.

One barrier is access to intellectual property. India is most vocal on this front, bidding to protect its large chemical industry.

Sunset on the Persian Gulf as seen from a skyscraper in Abu Dhabi (Flickr/ Christopher Lance)

Sunset on the Persian Gulf as seen from a skyscraper in Abu Dhabi. The region could face intolerable heatwaves if carbon emissions do not fall in future (Flickr/ Christopher Lance)

Patents shouldn’t be reined in, as some campaigners urge, but the fund must adequately compensate poorer nations, said Kevin Fay, head of US industry coalition, Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy. The total bill for new technologies may run to $5 billion over a 20-30 year period, he estimated.

“Intellectual property rights are there for the protection of everybody, not just developed country industry,” added Fay. “It has been relied upon around the years to primarily protect and encourage innovation.”

Report: Persian Gulf faces ‘intolerable’ heat on current emissions trends 

There is also a worry poorer countries are being overburdened by simultaneous phase-outs, one developing country negotiator said.

Some replacements may produce less HFCs but generate more CO2 as they guzzle electricity, Kuwaiti negotiator Al-Moutaq argued.

Observers hope these challenges can be worked out at interim meetings before the annual round of talks in Rwanda in October.

The US has signalled it will emphasise a deal in bilateral meetings, as part of President Barack Obama’s climate legacy. China is too on board.

“The body has a strong track record of success,” added C2ES’s Seidel. “It’s well positioned to complete the negotiations.”

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