As the Montreal Protocol Celebrates 25 years, its reputation hangs in the balance

Nov 09, 2012, 16:40 ET from Environmental Investigation Agency

WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being released by the Environmental Investigation Agency:

As the Montreal Protocol celebrates its 25th anniversary this week in Geneva, Switzerland, it stands as proof that coordinated global action can solve complex international environmental issues. By successfully phasing out the use of 98% of the chemicals that destroy the ozone layer, the Montreal Protocol put the ozone layer on the road to recovery and earned the title of the world's most successful environmental treaty.  These actions have prevented millions of cases of skin cancer, glaucoma, and numerous other environmental and health problems.

Unfortunately, the most commonly used alternative to ozone depleting substances (ODS) are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  HFCs do not damage the ozone layer, but are super greenhouse gases (GHGs) with global warming potentials (GWP) hundred and thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide.  Research predicts that HFC emissions will reach between 5.5 and 8.8 GtsCO2e by 2050 under business as usual scenarios, equivalent to 9-19% of global CO2 emissions.[i]  Therefore, if left unchecked, HFC emissions will prove fatal to efforts to arrest and reverse climate change by largely negating anticipated reductions in CO2 and other GHGs.  A swift reduction of the production and use of HFCs is easily the most significant, immediate and cost-effective option to achieve rapid global reductions in GHG emissions.

"Whether the Montreal Protocol is the world's most successful treaty will be judged by whether it takes actions to phase-out HFCs," said Clare Perry, EIA Senior Campaigner. "It will not be judged as successful if it saves the ozone layer but sacrifices the global climate in the process."

HFC consumption increased from almost zero in 1990 to 1100 million tonnes CO2e in 2010, and continues to rapidly rise, becoming the fastest growing source of GHG emissions. This rise is directly attributable to the Montreal Protocol's phase-out of ODS, creating a legal and moral obligation to phase out HFCs and transition to widely available low-GWP alternatives.

For the last four years, parties have submitted proposals to amend the Montreal Protocol to allow for a phase-out HFCs, but a small number of countries have blocked formal discussion, arguing that HFCs are regulated by the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. However, neither of these climate conventions is taking action to phase-out HFCs.

The need for immediate action on HFCs is internationally recognized and globally sanctioned, in the Rio+20 Declaration which stated:

"We recognize that the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances is resulting in a rapid increase in the use and release of high global-warming potential hydrofluorocarbons to the environment. We support a gradual phase-down in the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons."[ii]

"Fast-acting mitigation is needed to offset increasing climate impacts, to reduce the risk of passing tipping points for abrupt and irreversible climate change, and to provide the time needed to control emissions of carbon dioxide through emissions reductions and carbon negative strategies," said Mark W. Roberts, EIA International Policy Advisor. "Reducing production and use of HFCs is easily the largest and most cost-effective near-term mitigation option currently available for achieving significant global reductions in GHG emissions."

Climate Change is accelerating beyond our best collective efforts to control it. This creates an urgent imperative for every international body and agency to use its existing capacities to take strong and immediate action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The central principle in the history of life on Earth is that we must evolve or perish. The time has come for the world's most successful environmental treaty, the Montreal Protocol, to evolve and expand its efforts. We must act now.

For More Information Contact:

Mark W. Roberts
+1 (617) 722-8222

Clare Perry

[i] Guus J.M.Velders, et al., The large contribution of projected HFC emissions to future climate forcing, 106 Proc. Nat'l. Acad. Sci.  10949, 10952 (2009)

[ii] The Future We Want, Final Text from Rio + 20, available at

SOURCE Environmental Investigation Agency