22 July 2020, Bangkok - For Pacific Island nations, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an unwanted distraction from a more existential crisis: climate change. With rising sea levels threatening to erase some countries from the map, perhaps it is no surprise that these same countries have been some of the most proactive during the pandemic in driving forward efforts to tackle the climate crisis. One tool in their arsenal comes in the form of ongoing work under the Montreal Protocol, the global treaty that is protecting human life and the environment by the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances (ODS).
Despite border closures and the inability to hold face-to-face meetings due to the pandemic, National Ozone Officers across the Pacific have been gathering online over the last few months to map out strategic plans to finalize the phaseout of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) in their countries.
After chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were largely phased out as refrigerants due to their detrimental effect on the Earth's protective ozone layer, HCFCs were introduced as replacements. Although HCFCs have a smaller impact on the ozone layer, they are also potent greenhouse gases, some of which have thousands of times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. By phasing out HCFCs, the Pacific Island countries are also helping to mitigate climate change.
“We’re not taking any time off on this issue, pandemic or not,” said Roselyn Bue, National Ozone Officer for Vanuatu. “We in the Pacific are doing everything we can to mitigate the impacts of climate change and phasing out HCFCs is a big part of that.”
In the Pacific, HCFCs are used mostly in refrigeration and air-conditioning servicing and are the major ODS used in the region. The UN Environment Programme, through its OzonAction Compliance Assistance Programme, has been supporting efforts to eliminate and reduce ODS use in the Pacific and other countries with support provided by the Montreal Protocol's Multilateral Fund.
Uniquely, Pacific Island countries have adopted a regional approach for tackling ODS, working together to phase out HCFCs. Given their common circumstances, the countries are able to share successes and lessons with others in the region and foster collaboration between their National Ozone Units, which are responsible for their national strategies to implement the Montreal Protocol.
More than five virtual sessions between May and July were organized with representatives from 12 Pacific countries under the regional approach comprising the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu came together to discuss the next steps of their regional HCFC Phaseout Management Plan (HPMP).
The total annual use of HCFCs by 12 countries has been decreased from 60.62 MT to 5.75 MT over the last decade. Between 2016 and 2019, a total of 4,908 HCFC-based air-conditioners were imported to these 12 Pacific countries, which only accounted for 4% of the total market share. When including Fiji and Papua New Guinea (which implement their own national plans), the total annual use of HCFCs in the Pacific region has decreased from 224.80 MT to 115.05 MT, which is well ahead of Montreal Protocol obligations.
“This may represent a small proportion of global totals compared to other countries that consume much larger quantities of these refrigerants, but the countries' drive to do everything in their power to tackle the issue sets an example for the rest of the world,” said James Curlin, Acting Head of OzonAction. “We’ve seen fantastic cooperation and determination to phase out ODS in the Pacific.”
The first stage of the plan, finishing this year, has seen the 12 countries phase out more than 90% of HCFCs from the agreed baseline consumption during 2009-2010. Four countries – the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Niue – reported zero imports for the past 4 years, which means they have already achieved 100% phaseout.
Already, the phaseout of HCFCs under Stage I has also generated significant benefits for the countries' refrigeration and air-conditioning sectors and consumers. Consumers, through education and awareness programmes, have been introduced to a variety of environmentally-friendly technologies that also help them reduce their electricity bills. The servicing sector has been provided with training to maintain the different technologies and provided with basic servicing tools. Through these training workshops, technicians have developed better servicing practices that improve customer satisfaction and has reduced the need for subsequent repairs.
The next stage of the HPMP will see all countries phase out the remaining consumption of HCFCs by 2030 with a transition to non-ozone depletion technology. Countries are now in the process of identifying additional legislation, effective monitoring and reporting tools, and how to sustain the capacity of enforcement officers and the servicing sector in supporting the complete phaseout. The virtual meetings enabled countries to have a common understanding of planned activities and expected outcomes, and to share their feedback to fine-tune Stage II.
UNEP will continue to be the lead implementing agency for the project, while the Government of Australia will support by sharing its successes and practical experience in HCFC phaseout.
“We are getting closer and closer to a full phaseout in the region” said Mr. Curlin, “Even during the pandemic, we can’t let up.”
For more information
Mr. Hu Shaofeng
Senior Montreal Protocol Regional Coordinator
Asia-Pacific, UNEP OzonAction