Earlier this month, I attended the 31st Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MOP 31.) The meeting afforded delegates representing 197 nations an opportunity to discuss progress on the global phase-out of CFCs and HCFCs as well as the phase-down of HFCs.
The Montreal Protocol is a landmark agreement that entered into force in 1989. The parties to the Protocol meet annually to make decisions focused on ensuring the successful implementation of the agreement, which include adjusting or amending the Protocol. The Kigali Amendment, which called for the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), entered into force at the beginning of this year.
There were several important themes related to refrigerant use and the HFC phase-down that were top of mind for delegates and others attending the MOP 31. First, many attendees were concerned about recent scientific findings of unexpected emissions of trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), which reportedly has been identified in the atmosphere from presumed sources in China. CFC-11 was used primarily as a foaming agent for building insulation, refrigerators and other consumer products prior to a global phase-out in 2010 under the Montreal Protocol. Delegates spent significant time discussing how to deal with this problem, and what mechanisms should and can be put in place to prevent future breaches of this international agreement.
Next, illegal trade of refrigerants was an important concern for many attendees. I participated in a discussion with industry leaders and Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, to discuss this critical issue. As countries around the world move toward lower-GWP options, including low-GWP HFCs, Hydrofluoroolefin (HFOs) and HFC/HFO blends, it is essential that refrigerants are bought and sold in compliance with applicable production and consumption limits set by national laws. This not only protects against the considerable safety risks of refrigerants procured illegally, but allows responsible producers to invest in research and development of new technologies that are more energy efficient and environmentally preferable than previous generations of refrigerant products.
Third, as the world embarks upon the transition to lower-GWP refrigerants, there is a significant focus on adequate training of technicians. The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) hosted a side event during the meetings on its “Refrigerant Driving License” (RDL) program, a global refrigerant management initiative that sets minimum requirements for the proper and safe handling of refrigerants in air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration equipment. The first stage of this program initiates a global program to help Article 5 (developing) countries safely and effectively transition to alternative refrigerants under the Kigali Amendment’s HFC phase down schedule.
Finally, and most notable from a global policy perspective, MOP 31 participants and attendees were actively engaged in conversations regarding the status of activities around the phasedown of HFCs. It was reported that 88 countries have ratified the Kigali Amendment, the fastest adoption of any amendment to the Montreal Protocol since the treaty was entered into force. Although the work is not done to achieve full ratification by all participating nations, formal meeting discussions and side event presentations demonstrated a commitment of world leaders, as well as industry, to transition away from higher GWP refrigerants. While these conversations continue across the public and private sectors, and there is strong consensus about the importance of this transition, one reality remains evident in listening to the information and views shared: There is not a “one size fits all” refrigerant solution for the future.
I left MOP 31 optimistic that, regardless of the nation, region, background or other experience of those in attendance, the vast majority of views represented suggest a commitment to a responsible approach regarding the transition to lower-GWP refrigerants that will result in improvements to the long-term sustainability of our planet, its resources, and its inhabitants for generations to come.