Fresh news: updating the Montreal Protocol

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Climate
Hydrofluorocarbons, used as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioning, could soon begin a phase out Hydrofluorocarbons, used as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioning, could soon begin a phase out kosmos111
08 Oct
2016
Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This month, Marco Magrini looks at the future of hydrofluorocarbons

When it comes to the environment, we don’t often get to deliver good news, which is why, even when it’s three decades old, we cling on to it. In 1987, the countries of the world signed a binding international treaty, one which would become the most widely ratified treaty in human history. A global accord of such a scale could only have been reached upon a truly global matter – a drastic reduction in the emission of harmful gases.

In the era of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, the United Nations reached a pinnacle in human teamwork by adopting the Montreal Protocol, gradually banning the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Now, 29 years later, Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, could become the stage for yet another grandiose accomplishment.

Since Montreal, CFCs have indeed been phased out and the Antarctic ozone layer is now proven to be healing. In refrigeration and air conditioning – CFCs’ main industrial applications – the chemicals were replaced with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Since HFCs contain no chlorine, they pose no harm to the ozone layer. Unfortunately, they have a global warming potential up to 9,100 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Clearly, replacing coolants is much easier than replacing fossil fuel, and this is why the Montreal Protocol was binding and much easier to be agreed upon

The 28th meeting of the Montreal Protocol’s 197 parties, set to commence today, is expected to amend the Protocol in order to curtail HFC production. Even though India is pressing for a slower phaseout, the mood is upbeat, and observers say another diplomatic feat is well within reach.

If HFC use is to be restrained and finally banned, the Kigali Amendment could spare us 0.5 degrees of warming by 2100 – a blessing for a planet struggling not to exceed the dangerous 2°C threshold. The irony is that the warmer the world becomes, the more we will need refrigeration and air conditioning. Luckily, science has discovered plenty of substitutes for HFCs, and new technologies will diffuse rapidly, as key patents may expire in a few years.

Clearly, replacing coolants is much easier than replacing fossil fuel, and this is why the Montreal Protocol (unlike the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement) was binding and much easier to be agreed upon. However, with 2016 setting record high temperature levels, good news of a far-sighted and ambitious deal in Kigali would be refreshing in every sense.

This was published in the October 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Wildlife

Nature reserves and protected areas in Germany have lost 76…

Oceans

An investigation into shark fins and ray gills sold in…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

The rapid spread of Asian hornets is likely to make…

Energy

Europe provides more than €112billion (£97billion) in subsidies to fossil…

Oceans

A study of various fish populations has found dramatic reductions…

Geophoto

The seasonal changes of September promise much photographic potential for…

Oceans

Shipping traffic can increase lightning strikes, according to a pioneering…

Polar

New documentary travels to remote Antarctica to unpack the complex…

Oceans

The deaths of these majestic creatures had remained an unsolved…

Wildlife

Over a two-year period, a new species of plant or…

Wildlife

As part of New Zealand’s plan to cull millions of…

Oceans

A project to map the ocean floor is raising concerns…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Wildlife

Dismay as a Spanish baby dolphin becomes the latest victim…

Polar

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Oceans

The effect of plastics on the world’s oceans is posing…

Geophoto

Camera technology may have come a long way since the…

Energy

The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn…

Wildlife

Despite their high profiles, most of the world’s national animal…