Gulf states resist EU-led cuts to ozone-depleting refrigerant

[NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr]

The hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic. [NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr]

The EU has released its first quotas for HFCs as part of a plan to phase out the refrigeration gasses. There is broad global consensus on the subject, but oil-producing countries in the Gulf region are holding up an international agreement. EURACTIV France reports

The European Commission launched a new quota system for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) on Friday 21 November, the same day that international negotiations in Paris on the Montreal Protocol came to an end without an agreement.

Up for negotiation was the phasing out and substitution of hydrofluorocarbons in the developing world. The greenhouse effect of these gases is over 1,000 times stronger than CO2.

The EU presented a document proposing a timetable for the progressive elimination of these gases, beginning in 2017. The project received broad support, but has met with resistance from a small number of countries, principally from the Arab League.

Oil producers unhappy with new refrigerant gasses

A source close to the negotiations told that “the oil-producing countries say they have technical concerns. They worry that the refrigerant effect of the substitute gases will not be strong enough, and these are countries that depend heavily on air conditioning”.

Nobody has yet presented any technical foundation for this argument, but they will be expected to do so to justify this isolated position.

Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD ), an NGO which closely follows the negotiations, said “the adoption of this amendment is inevitable, but the timing is uncertain”.

Zaelke praised the attitude of India and China during the negotiations, saying “we have taken an important step forward in Paris, with China and India declaring their willingness to advance in the phasing-out of HFCs”.

France could organise another round of negotiation on the subject before the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.

“It is important that all parties commit to eliminating the gasses that destroy the ozone layer, otherwise the ozone layer will not recover. This is why it is time to amend the Montreal Protocol,” the European Commission explained.

20 times more efficient than the Kyoto Protocol

Since its approval in 1987, the Montreal Protocol has been broadly hailed for phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals used in refrigeration and cooling systems. Between 1990 and 2010, it led to the elimination of 222 gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. In comparison, the Clean Development Mechanism saved only 3.8 gigatons of CO2, and the Kyoto Protocol between 5 and 10 gigatons.

It is hoped that the Montreal Protocol will enable the elimination of a further 210 gigatons of CO2 between 2020 and 2050. Since their initiation in 1987, the negotiations have brought about a reduction in the size of the hole in the ozone layer, which has disastrous consequences for health. Experts now expect the hole to disappear completely by 2065.

Today, coolant gasses constitute the main problem: hydrofluorocarbon gasses (F-gases), which replaced the ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (HFCs), and have no direct impact on the ozone layer, but are extremely damaging to the climate.

The German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz had hoped to continue using an HFC gas in their cars’ air conditioning units, but was told by the European Commission to modify their system. France even blocked imports of Mercedes cars in 2013 in response to the issue.

>> Read: French Mercedes ban accelerates strife over environmental laws

New quota system for HFCs in Europe

The EU has since put in place a quota system for HFC gasses, in order to work towards their elimination on the continent. The quota system, which comes into effect on 1 January 2015, aims to reduce the consumption of HFC gasses by two thirds by 2030.

Durwood Zaelke said “the EU is leading the way on the subject” and “has the most ambitious legislation”.

The first quotas were distributed to the European importers and resellers of these gasses on 21 November, a total of 79 companies.

85% of the quotas have been given free of charge to the 5 main producers and importers – including the French company Arkema, the French-Belgian company Solvay and the German Company Linde. 

The Montreal Protocol requires all signatory countries (all countries in the world since 2009) to phase out the use and production of ozone-depleting chemicals: chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), methyl bromide, bromochloromethane etc.

According to the Commission, f-gases are more than 20,000 times more damaging than CO2 in terms of their global-warming potential, with CFCs among the most potent.

The Montreal protocol has undergone several amendments (the London, Copenhagen, Montreal and Peking amendments) specifying the methods of eliminating ozone-depleting chemicals, accelerating the timetable and adding more ozone-damaging gasses to the list.

The protocol's high efficiency has led to the discussion of a new amendment to integrate HFCs.

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