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May 23, 2014
North America's HFC phasedown proposal

The U.S., Canada, and Mexico have agreed to submit a proposed amendment to the parties of the Montreal Protocol to phase down consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC).  Following preliminary discussions of the amendment at a July 2014 working group meeting, the proposal will be formally discussed at the 26th Meeting of the Parties in November 2014.  The ambitious proposal would reduce HFCs by over 90,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent by 2050.

Common refrigerant

Developed to replace substances that deplete the earth’s protective ozone layer, HFCs are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment in homes, other buildings, and industrial operations (about 55 percent of total HFC use in 2010) and in air-conditioning in vehicles (about 24 percent).  Smaller amounts are used in foam products (11 percent), aerosols (5 percent), fire protection systems (4 percent), and solvents (1 percent).

Like the ozone-depleting substances they replace, most HFCs are potent greenhouse gases (GHGs).  For example, the most commonly used HFC, HFC-134a, is 1,430 times more damaging to the climate system than CO2.  While they represent a small fraction of the current total of GHGs in the atmosphere, their warming impact is very strong, and their emissions are projected to increase nearly twentyfold in the coming decades.

Developing countries

According to the EPA, the increase of HFCs in the atmosphere is due mostly to the growing demand for refrigeration and air conditioning, particularly in developing countries, and because they are the primary substitutes for ozone-depleting substances.  HFC emissions went up by about 8 percent per year from 2004 to 2008.  In his June 2013 Climate Action Plan, President Obama presented a goal to reduce emissions of HFCs via both international leadership and domestic actions and by acting now under the Montreal Protocol.

Proposed amendments

The proposal would create a new Annex F listing of 19 HFCs as controlled substances.  The amendments also recognize that there may not be alternatives to HFCs and therefore offers a phasedown as opposed to a phaseout.  Article 5 (developing) countries would be required to begin reductions at a later date than non-Article 5 (developed) countries and would be held to a less-stringent reduction schedule.
In addition, the proposal:

  • Includes provisions to limit HFC-23 by-product emissions,
  • Requires licensing of HFC imports and exports and bans imports and exports to non-Parties,
  • Requires reporting on HFC production, consumption, and by-product emissions, and
  • Makes eligible for funding under the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund the phasedown of HFC production and consumption as well as the reduction of HFC-23 by-product emissions.

The proposed amendments 

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