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Montreal Protocol Inches Closer to Negotiations on HFC Phase-down

Friday, 07 August 2015
The 36th meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG 36)* of the parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MP)** held from 20 to 24 July 2015, in Paris, France. OEWG 36 devoted most of its time to addressing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)***. HFCs are man-made fluorinated chemicals that do not deplete the ozone layer but are potent greenhouse gases listed under the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol and many of them have high global-warming-potential.

The negotiations focused on proposals to amend the Protocol to phase down HFCs, and the creation of a contact group to negotiate on these proposals. For the first time ever, the parties, who have considered possibilities of HFC management under the Montreal Protocol over the past seven years, held detailed discussions on various elements of four proposals submitted by a total of 40 countries to amend the Protocol to phase down HFCs. The parties also discussed issues related to essential-use exemptions for controlled substances and forwarded a draft decision on China's nomination for essential-use exemption for 2016 for carbon tetrachloride for the testing of oil, grease and total petroleum hydrocarbons in water for consideration in November. China's request was the only one received this year.

OEWG 36 tackled HFCs during its session through two tracks. The first was a continuation of informal talks on "the feasibility and ways of managing HFCs" agreed to at an April 2015 special session devoted to HFCs, OEWG 35, and launched intersessionally at a June 2015 meeting held in Vienna, Austria. Throughout OEWG 36 and up until the final evening, on Friday 24th June, the informal talks sought to set the terms of reference for a contact group that would consider all options for HFC management, including negotiations on the Protocol amendment proposals. Delegates ultimately agreed to hold an additional session of OEWG 36 prior to the Protocol's next Meeting of the Parties (MOP), which is scheduled to be held in November 2015, in order to conclude discussions in the informal group.

The second track involved the first substantive discussions in plenary of the actual Protocol amendment proposals, with formal presentations of each and questions posed by delegates to proponents about the technical details of their proposals. The four proposals submitted this year were from: North America (US, Canada and Mexico); India; the European Union (EU) and its 28 Member States; and the Island States, namely Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Palau, the Philippines, Samoa and Solomon Islands. “There is opportunity in this diversity, with delegates now able to pick and choose components from each so that they can create an amendment that balances parties’ different concerns,” one delegate commented on the state of interplay in the negotiations.

In addition to HFCs, OEWG 36 considered a number of other issues, including: the quadrennial assessment reports of the Protocol's assessment panels****; an initial discussion of possible focuses for the next quadrennial assessment reports, due in 2018; a draft decision on China's nomination for an essential-use exemption for 2016 for carbon tetrachloride used to test water quality; critical use nominations for 2016 and 2017; and issues related to the phase-out of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

Sticking points during the July talks included baselines and timelines for HFC phase out; financing and technical assistance for developing countries, referred to as Article 5 countries in the text; and the role of technology transfer and intellectual property rights in finding and distributing HFC alternatives.

* The OEWG prepares issues for negotiation and decision at the annual Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Protocol. The 27th MOP will convene from 1-5 November 2015, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
** The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was designed to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to reduce their abundance in the atmosphere, and thereby protect the earth’s fragile ozone Layer. The original Montreal Protocol was agreed on 16 September 1987 and entered into force on 1 January 1989. The Montreal Protocol includes a unique adjustment provision that enables the Parties to the Protocol to respond quickly to new scientific information and agree to accelerate the reductions required on chemicals already covered by the Protocol. The Parties to the Montreal Protocol have amended the Protocol to enable, among other things, the control of new chemicals and the creation of a financial mechanism to enable developing countries to comply.  The London, Copenhagen, Montreal and Beijing Amendments entered into force on 10 August 1992, 14 June 1994 10 November 1999 and 25 February 2002 respectively, only for those Parties which ratified the particular amendments.
*** HFCs are used in the air conditioning, refrigeration, foam and aerosol sectors as replacements for many ozone-depleting substances (ODSs), including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons and hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs), which are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.
**** The three assessment panels of the Montreal Protocol, namely the Scientific Assessment Panel, the Environmental Effects Assessment Panel and the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel and its six Technical Options Committees, highlighted that ODSs are declining in the atmosphere and radiative forcing by CFCs and HCFCs will decline over the course of the 21st century. On the other hand, HFCs are increasing rapidly and radiative forcing by future HFC emissions can be up to 25 per cent of that of future carbon dioxide emissions by the middle of the century, but this could be curbed through the use of HFCs with low global-warming-potential or other alternatives. The three panels will produce a synthesis report of the three 2014 assessments later in the year, to be available for consideration as parties develop their proposals on potential areas of focus for the next quadrennial assessment, to be completed in 2018.

Source: UNEP News Centre, IISD Reporting Services
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