In the early hours of 15 October 2016, the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer unanimously adopted the Kigali Amendment, paving the way for the reduction of powerful greenhouse gases - hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
The world hailed the move as the single largest step made so far towards keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius, a key commitment of the Paris climate accord.
Below, we explain just how important the Kigali Amendment is, how it may impact the world around us and what it will take to get us there.
HFCs, or hydrofluorocarbons are commonly used in air conditioners, refrigerators, aerosols, foams and other products. They were introduced as substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other substances harmful to the ozone layer, which were being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.
But what was meant as a solution to the ozone hole problem, soon became a source of another major global threat, as it turned out that HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming potential thousands of times larger than that of carbon dioxide (CO2).
On a planet where temperature is steadily rising and a rapidly growing middle class can increasingly afford air conditioners and refrigerators, the demand for HFCs is skyrocketing. The consumption of HFCs is estimated to expand by about 10 per cent each year, making it not only one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, but also the fastest growing one.
Limiting the use of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is expected to prevent the emissions of up to 105 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent of greenhouse gases, helping to avoid up to 0.5 degree Celsius of global temperature rise by 2100.
This seemingly small difference could actually have an immense positive impact on food production, water availability or survival of coral reefs, as shown by a recent study by European scientists.
Why the Montreal Protocol?
The Montreal Protocol is the greatest success story of environmental cooperation in history and perhaps the most successful international accord ever signed.
Agreed in 1987, it is, together with the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the first UN treaty to achieve ratification by every country on Earth. It is the unprecedented level of international cooperation that has allowed the protocol to avert what could have been the greatest environmental catastrophe in human history.
Measures taken by the Montreal Protocol have led to a 98 per cent decrease in the production and use of ozone-damaging chemicals, helping the ozone layer to start recovering ahead of schedule, saving an estimated two million people each year by 2030 from skin cancer and slowing down climate change.
Why is the Montreal Protocol so effective?
The Montreal Protocol has a number of special mechanisms that ensure its parties meet the agreed targets.
The first of its kind financial mechanism, which includes a Multilateral Fund, ensures that no country is left alone in its struggle to limit the chemicals controlled by the protocol.
In addition, the protocol has a unique non-compliance procedure, which ensures that countries that exceed their quotas can swiftly return on track to achieve the agreed goals. These mechanisms have proven very effective with ozone-depleting substances, allowing countries to consistently meet their phase out targets ahead of schedule.
How does it work?
- Financial mechanism
The Multilateral Fund provides financial and technical support for developing countries to comply with their commitments. Since 1991, over $3.4 billion has been provided to developing countries through the fund, to help them to meet their obligations under the protocol.
- Non-compliance regime
The Protocol's unique non-compliance procedure focuses on amicable solutions and assistance rather than naming and shaming or punishment. Past experience shows that parties feel comfortable to report their own non-compliance issues and seek assistance and solutions.
- Assessment Panels
The Protocol's three Assessment Panels regularly provide countries with up-to-date, independent information on scientific, technical, economic and environmental issues, enabling them to take informed and timely decisions on complex matters and base their policies and actions on sound science.
- Exemption mechanisms
The Protocol has developed and used various exemption mechanisms to address the lack of suitable alternatives to ozone-depleting substances. Through this mechanism, the Montreal Protocol ensures that phasing out of ozone- or climate-harming chemicals is not disruptive to societies.
- Non-party trade provisions
They prohibit or restrict countries that have ratified the protocol or its amendments from trading in controlled substances with states that are yet to ratify it. This creates an incentive for countries to promptly join the Protocol and its amendments. The provisions are applied in a flexible way to ensure that all parties adhere to them without compromising their economic performance.
How will it work?
Under the Kigali Amendment countries have agreed to add HFCs to the list of controlled substances. They have also approved a timeline for their gradual reduction by 80-85 per cent by the late 2040s.
First reductions by developed countries are expected in 2019. Developing countries will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024 and in 2028 for some nations.
Following the unanimous adoption of the Kigali Amendment by all the parties present at the 28th Meeting of Parties to the Montreal Protocol, the next step is its ratification by the parties.
The Kigali Amendment, will enter into force on 1 January 2019, provided that it is ratified by at least 20 parties. If that condition is not met by 2019, the Amendment will become effective 90 days after 20 parties ratify it.