As countries meet in the Rwandan capital of Kigali this week, Christian Aid has warned that if they don’t agree on an ambitious date for ending the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), their climate pledges contained in the Paris Agreement will be broken.
HFCs, the manmade chemicals used in fridges and air conditioners, created to replace ozone-depleting chemicals in 1990, are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and their use is increasing at 10-15% a year.
Christian Aid’s Senior Policy Officer, Gaby Drinkwater, who is attending the talks in Kigali, said it was in everyone’s interests to phase out HFCs as soon as possible.
She said: “HFCs were created to replace other chemicals, some of which we discovered were putting a hole in the ozone layer. But we didn’t realise that in HFCs we had created something which could devastate the climate.
“HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide so it’s essential that we stop making them. The good news is we’ve already created their benign replacements, which are also more energy efficient. We now need to start using them, in conjunction with controlling the destruction of existing HFCs in a safe way.”
She added: “As people in developing countries seek more air conditioners and refrigerators, a heavy expansion of HFCs could deal a significant blow to the ambition of the Paris Agreement and set back any progress made on keeping global warming to 2 degrees.”
Negotiations in Kigali this week will focus on agreeing an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, including the date when HFCs must be phased-out. Some countries are pushing for a date closer to 2031 while others want a much more ambitious timeline in the early 2020s. Richer countries have already committed funds to help developing countries make the transition and leap-frog to the safer alternatives. Last month a number of philanthropists added another $53m to the pot to aid this process.
Ms Drinkwater said countries had nothing to fear from a rapid phasedown: “By leapfrogging polluting HFCs, developing countries can cut their energy use, reduce their climate impact, ensure they deliver on their Paris Agreement pledges and benefit from financial support towards equipment upgrades.”
“The combination of removing HFCs and the energy efficiency savings of new technology could see global temperatures reduced by a full degree centigrade by the end of the century.”
Setting the tone for the conference, Tina Birmpili, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, stated that projected increases in demand for cooling mean that, by mid-century, more energy will be used on cooling than on heating. She underlined how this trend makes reaching an agreement on an HFC phasedown, combined with efforts to improve energy efficiency, as crucial to mitigating climate change.