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Montreal Protocol outshines Kyoto

 

 

PETER HADEKEL, The Gazette

 

Published: 6 hours ago

It's been described as the most successful global environmental agreement ever negotiated.

 

The Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987 and ratified by 191 countries, has been extraordinarily effective in phasing out the use of harmful chemicals that depleted the the ozone layer in the Earth's stratosphere.

 

The agreement showed that the global community really could respond to a serious environmental threat.

 

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Twenty years later, environmental officials from government and industry are meeting this week, at a United Nations conference in Montreal, to assess their progress and recommend further action.

 

And some are asking whether the Montreal Protocol could serve as a template for action on a far bigger and more complex problem - greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Despite progress in eliminating 95 per cent of ozone-depleting chemicals, there's still more that can be done to protect the ozone layer, said Mack McFarland, a scientist at chemical giant E.I. DuPont de Nemours and global environmental manager of the company's fluorochemicals business.

 

The phase-out for developing countries could be speeded up, he said in an interview yesterday. That's one proposal on the agenda at this week's meeting.

 

The ozone layer acts as a filter in the Earth's stratosphere, absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

 

By the mid-1980s, gaping holes in the layer had begun to appear, linked to the world's consumption of such chemicals as halons (in fire extinguishers) and chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs (in refrigeration, air conditioning and aerosol propellants).

 

After scientific proof was published about the the causes of ozone depletion, industry began to acknowledge its role in the problem, McFarland said. DuPont, which had invented CFCs, began to call for their elimination a year before the Montreal Protocol was signed.

 

Progress was rapid in eliminating use of most ozone-depleting substances, he noted.

 

"In developed countries, halons were gone by 1995, and CFCs by 1996."

As of 2005, more than 95 per cent of all the chemicals controlled by the protocol had been phased out. But healing the stratosphere will take longer, because chemical residues will be present for a while.

 

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that the ozone layer should return to pre-1980 levels by 2050 to 2075.

 

Health benefits will be substantial as the ozone layer is restored. It's estimated that the global community will avoid millions of cases of fatal skin cancer and save trillions of dollars in health-care costs.

 

"At this stage, the question is: Is there more that can be done to protect the ozone layer," McFarland asked.

 

Use of less damaging HCFCs is still being ramped down, but could be speeded up in both developed and developing countries, he said.

Six groups of countries have presented proposals to accelerate that process.

 

Industry has poured hundreds of million of dollars into research and development of safer chemical substitutes for use in such processes as refrigeration. One result, McFarland said, is that production of global warming gases has also been reduced.

 

Between 1990, when ozone-depleting substances were at peak levels, and 2000, the elimination of those chemicals yielded a net reduction of 25 billion tonnes of global-warming gases.

 

Can the success of the Montreal Protocol serve as a model for tackling climate change?

 

In one respect, it can, McFarland said, because a science-based approach was followed and countries, while agreeing to respect targets, were to free to implement the Montreal Protocol as they chose.

Also, realizing that science and technology were not static, there were provisions to revise the Montreal Protocol at least every four years.

 

Of course, a critical difference is that developing countries were on board from the start. That's not the case with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

 

"The climate change issue is many orders of magnitude more challenging," McFarland said. "We're dealing with the very fabric of our society - the way we produce and use energy.

 

"You've got to make sure that the goals you set under these international agreements are achievable."

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Since money seems to be the new motus operandi for, well, everything, the success for a future greenhouse gas emission reduction should include a way to generate more money when they go down.

 

I have no idea how that can happen but if the people behind such goal figure it out, money could be used to draw the polluters towards a world without pollution.

 

Even if it's hard to figure out at first, it's worth trying to find new ways to lure even the dirtiest polluters into becoming the "clean kings and queens" of our industries.

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  • 3 years later...

A Novel Tactic in Climate Fight Gains Some Traction

 

WASHINGTON — With energy legislation shelved in the United States and little hope for a global climate change agreement this year, some policy experts are proposing a novel approach to curbing global warming: including greenhouse gases under an existing and highly successful international treaty ratified more than 20 years ago.

 

The treaty, the Montreal Protocol, was adopted in 1987 for a completely different purpose, to eliminate aerosols and other chemicals that were blowing a hole in the Earth’s protective ozone layer.

 

But as the signers of the protocol convened the 22nd annual meeting in Bangkok on Monday, negotiators are considering a proposed expansion in the ozone treaty to phase out the production and use of the industrial chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs The chemicals have thousands of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas.

 

HFCs are used as refrigerants in air-conditioners and cooling systems. They are manufactured mostly in China and India, but appliances containing the substance are in use in every corner of the world. HFCs replaced even more dangerous ozone-depleting chemicals known as HCFCs, themselves a substitute for the chlorofluorocarbons that were the first big target of the Montreal process.

 

“Eliminating HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the single biggest chunk of climate protection we can get in the next few years,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a nongovernment organization based in Washington. He noted that the ozone protection effort had begun under former President Ronald Reagan and continues to enjoy bipartisan support.

 

The United States has thrown its support behind the proposal and negotiators said there was a strong current of support for the move at the meeting on Monday. All the signatories to the Montreal Protocol would have to agree to the expansion, but no further approval from Congress would be needed. So far, there has been no Congressional or industry opposition to the idea.

 

But the plan is not expected to be adopted this year. Large developing countries, including China, India and Brazil, object that the timetable is too rapid and that payments for eliminating the refrigerant are not high enough.

 

One advantage to using the Montreal protocol as a vehicle, supporters say, is that negotiations over the treaty have been utterly unlike the contentious United Nations climate talks that foundered in Copenhagen last year. Negotiators say that without legislative action on curbing greenhouse gases by the United States, little progress will be made when countries gather in Cancún, Mexico, late this month for another round of climate talks.

 

In a post-election news conference, President Obama noted that it was doubtful that Congress would do anything to address global warming “this year or next year or the year after.”

 

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal treaty has been signed by all nations. They conduct their business with little drama and with broad scientific and technical input from governments and industry. The financing mechanisms, while occasionally contentious, are generally quickly resolved and seen as equitable.

 

The ozone treaty was unanimously ratified in 1988 by the United States Senate, which a decade later unanimously voted against adopting the Kyoto Protocol to address climate change. Montreal’s pollution reduction targets are mandatory, universally accepted and readily measurable. None of that is true of the climate process.

 

The Montreal Protocol has phased out nearly 97 percent of 100 ozone-depleting chemicals, some of which are also potent climate-altering gases. The net effect has been the elimination of the equivalent of more than 200 billion metric tons of global-warming gases, five years’ worth of total global emissions, far more than has been accomplished by the Kyoto process.

 

It has been, according to the former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, “perhaps the most successful international agreement to date.”

 

The proposal to eliminate HFCs was advanced several years ago by the tiny island nation of Micronesia, one of the places on Earth most vulnerable to sea-level rise and other global warming effects.

 

The United States quickly signed on. Along with Mexico and Canada, the Obama administration has proposed a rapid series of steps to reduce HFC production, with rich countries meeting a faster timetable than developing nations and helping to pay the poorer countries to find substitutes. But the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that adopting the HFC proposal could eliminate the equivalent of 88 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, and slow global warming by a decade.

 

Daniel A. Reifsnyder, the deputy assistant secretary of state for environment and the nation’s chief Montreal Protocol negotiator, said that it might take several years to persuade the ozone treaty countries to back the plan.

 

In addition to pace and cost issues, some countries say that HFCs have little impact on the ozone layer and thus should be handled under the United Nations climate change talks. Mr. Reifsnyder dismissed that as a legalistic argument and said that the ozone treaty could and should be used to achieve broader environmental objectives.

 

“What we’ve found is that the Montreal Protocol has been a very effective instrument for addressing global environmental problems,” Mr. Reifsnyder said in an interview. “It was created to deal with the ozone layer, but it also has tremendous ability to solve the climate problem if people are willing to use it that way.”

 

Mario Molina, the Mexican scientist who shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his groundbreaking work in identifying the role of chlorofluorocarbon gases in the breach of the stratospheric ozone layer, said that it might take two or three years for other countries to see the virtues of the HFC reduction.

 

“My hope is that everybody will agree with this proposal from the United States and Mexico and a few other countries because the Montreal Protocol has been so successful at controlling these industrial chemicals,” he said in an interview from his institute in Mexico City.

 

Dr. Molina said that extending the protocol to include HFCs could reduce the threat of climate change by several times what the Kyoto Protocol proposes. He noted that the climate treaty had fallen far short of its goals, and that there was no agreement on what should replace it when its major provisions expired in 2012.

 

“We understand it’s a stretch to use an international agreement designed for another purpose,” he said. “But dealing with these chemicals and using this treaty to protect the planet makes a lot of sense.”

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/science/earth/09montreal.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=montreal&st=cse

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You can't get any reductions in CO2 emissions it isn't possible... HFC is easier

 

EU is banning HFC refrigerants quite soon... I think for 2011 (?!) motor vehicles in Europe will not be allowed to use the common HFC refrigerant "R-134a". The R-134a is 1410 times more "greenhouse" than carbon dioxide is. Basically all car A/C systems since the early 90's around the world use R-134a (previously they used the CFC refrigerant "R-12" Freon)

 

The problem is to get an alternative gas... there has been suggestions of just using CO2 as a refrigerant, which is extremely cheap and has a GWP of only 1.0 by definition. BUT CO2 is an inefficient refrigerant and could be noxious if the gas got dumped into the passenger compartment of the vehicle suddenly. There was a test with some different gases, and the overall "carbon footprint" of the car with CO2 air conditioning was higher in most climates of (e.g. Spain, USA) except Germany (cool) where it was slightly less - because the extra gasoline burned to run the A/C was offsetting the minimal leakage of R-134a...

 

There are some new, exotic chemicals that are probably going to take over, like HFC-1234yf with less GWP but still being relatively efficient. Probably a more economical way to go would be to keep R-134a and just spend a bit more on better sealing of the system but of course the way laws and politics goes, the $100 solution gets priority over the $1 solution.

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