The Montreal Protocol is hailed as the most successful environmental treaty in history. It is distinguished by its universal membership and a decisive phase-out of ozone depleting gases. But the rapidly changing climate is shifting the parameters of success, and climate negotiations have failed to keep up. The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, signed in 2016 and approved for ratification by India last month, promises to mitigate global warming by 0.5 oC. But can it deliver? And what must be done to strengthen it?
Credit must first be given where it is due. The Kigali Amendment to phase-down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), gases with high global warming potential, is a timely intervention that dovetails energy efficiency with emissions reduction for enhanced climate mitigation. However, delayed ratification and inflated baselines, combined with the scant availability and reporting of HFC data, threaten to jeopardise its objectives.
What ails the Kigali Amendment?
The Kigali Amendment’s first milestone (or control measure) was 1st January 2019, the date by which a group of around 50 Parties1 to the agreement were required to reduce their HFC production and consumption by 10 per cent from baseline levels2. These countries, mostly developed economies, are known as non-Article 5 or NA5 Parties. The problem is that only 18 of them even ratified or accepted the amendment before the deadline. The U.S. passed a law on phasing down HFCs nearly two years after the January 2019 deadline and still has not formalised a baseline. Such delays prolong HFC use and seriously undermine the treaty’s objectives. In fact, there was a 4.8% increase in developed countries’ HFC emissions between the adoption of the Kigali Amendment and the first control measure.
The other fracture in the compliance regime is the absence of data reporting and verification. Only 13 out of the 50-odd NA5 Parties have reported data, and even this information is largely based on estimation and selective in its output. For example, Australia reported its HFC consumption and production for 2011, 2012, and 2013, and next for 2019. The absence of any data before and after the first three years presupposes estimation, mandated under Article 7 of the Montreal Protocol (which requires “best possible estimates of such data where actual data are not available”). It also highlights how the current regime allows countries to estimate historical HFC use based on current projections, increasing the possibility of inflated baselines.
Inflating baselines weakens the HFC phase-down regime. This year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a HFC production baseline of 375 million metric tonnes of CO2 eq. (MMTCO2 eq.) which exceeds the country’s reported HFC production in 2019 by a staggering 157 MMTCO2 eq. This is particularly risky considering that countries are not required to phase out HFCs completely, as they must do in the case of other fluorinated gases. They are allowed to continue producing and consuming as much as 15 per cent of their baseline levels, an amount that will naturally increase in proportion to the extent of inflation.
Old habits die hard
Such trends are not unique to the Montreal Protocol. Some major economies, such as the US, Turkey, New Zealand, Ukraine, and Canada, either withdrew from or did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the Doha Amendment to the Protocol. A recent CEEW study highlighted the consequences of non-participation by some developed countries in the pre-2020 climate regime, combined with factors like the selection of an inflated base year and the misuse of accounting provisions. These shortcomings resulted in additional greenhouse gas emissions that exceeded these countries’ estimated emissions allowances by around 25.1 GtCO2 eq.
These outcomes raise some important questions for the HFC phase-down regime. What is the remaining allowance that nations should receive for HFC production and consumption? How do we assess the incremental mitigation targeted by the Kigali Amendment in the absence of any business-as-usual projections? But they remain unanswered due to the lack of data and baselines.
A stitch in time
What can be done to strengthen the global HFC phase-down regime? First, countries must transition from an HFC phase-down to a complete phase-out, even if they are not currently required to do so. Doing so will be challenging, but not impossible. The good news is that over 80% of HFC emissions in developed countries come from the refrigeration and air conditioning sectors, both of which have already begun transitioning to non-HFC alternatives. Countries must leverage these low-hanging fruits while expediting R&D for substitutes elsewhere.
Second, reliable baselines and transparent data reporting are crucial for an effective phase-out. We need robust accounting provisions to ensure that baselines and targets are not merely estimated but calculated and reported with precision.
Third, countries that have not already ratified the Kigali Amendment should do so as soon as possible. Maximising country participation and setting ambitious phase-down goals are both critical for the success of the Montreal Protocol.
Fourth, we need adaptive policymaking using a mechanism that recalibrates country-specific reduction targets by adjusting for implementation delays. Countries whose timelines for lowering HFC usage are under implementation must undertake ambition enhancements to compensate for delayed ratification. To sustain the legacy of the Montreal Protocol, countries now need to demonstrate unprecedented climate leadership and ensure that the failures of other treaties are not replicated under the Kigali Amendment. Time is running out, and we must act now.
1Parties under the Protocol are divided into two categories: Article 5 Parties (A5) and non-Article 5 Parties (NA5). Considering the special needs of developing countries, the HFC phasedown for A5 countries begins and ends much after the NA5 countries.
2 A baseline is a reference point from which reduction is to be measured. For the NA5 Countries, it is calculated as the average of HFC production/consumption for the years 2011 to 2013, plus 15% of the HCFC baseline.
3 Based on data available on the website of the Ozone Secretariat.
4 This includes the European Union which is a ‘Regional Economic Integration Organisation’ (REIO). Parties which are members of an REIO may agree to jointly fulfil their obligations under the Amendment.