The Montreal Protocol, a climate treaty that gathers all U.N. member countries behind the goal of protecting the ozone layer, may not be the “most successful international agreement” anymore, as former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan used to put it.
The treaty has achieved a great deal in the more than two decades it has been in force, with a 97-percent reduction in the consumption of ozone-depleting substances. However, it is now being widely criticized for worsening climate change by replacing those harmful chemicals with climate-threatening substitutes.
The total phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were widely used as refrigerants and had a high ozone depletion potential, has led to a climate protection bonus equivalent to 11 billion tons of CO2 reductions each year, according to the U.N. Environment Program.
To put it in simpler terms, the Protocol had the annual environmental impact of one billion homes being completely off the electrical grid.
But this remarkable achievement is now being undermined by the chemicals that were used to replace CFCs: hydro fluorocarbons, known as HFCs, a group of “super” greenhouse gases. HFCs, which can be found in many products such as refrigerators and aerosols, are the fastest growing class of greenhouse gas and have extremely high global warming potential, scientists say.
The situation is critical: without fast action to limit their growth, HFCs could annually contribute up to 20 percent as much to global warming as carbon dioxide by 2050, according to a recent press release by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development
The U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Micronesia have taken a firm stance, proposing an amendment to the Montreal Protocol during the last meeting of state parties in Bangkok last month, which addresses HFCs.
“Phasing down HFCs is essential to… limit the adverse environmental ...