Governments will meet yet again in November to discuss the law of unintended consequences as they try to eliminate (or reduce) the use of greenhouse gasses used in fridges, inhalers and air conditioners.
Hydrofluorocarbons were hailed as the answer to the hole in the ozone layer which appeared over Antarctica in the 1980’s because they replaced hundreds of chemical substances widely used in aerosols which depleted the thin layer of ozone which protects the Earth from harmful sun rays.
197 countries signed the historic agreement in 1987 – which phased out chlorofluorocarbons and similar hydrochlorofluorocarbons and has seen gradual closure or the two polar ozone holes.
There has been growing concerns however, at how their substitute is undermining the landmark Paris climate agreement and could hamper attempts to keep global warming below dangerous levels.
US Secretary of State John Kerry put the problem into perspective earlier this year.
‘‘The use of hydrofluorocarbons is growing.’’ he said.
‘‘Already, the HFC’s used in refrigerators, air conditioners and inhalers are emitting a gigaton of CO2 equivalent pollution into the atmosphere annually.’’
‘‘If that sounds like a lot; it is. It’s equivalent to the emissions from nearly 300 coal fired power plants every single year.’’
‘‘A HFC phase down amendment is a critical piece of the climate puzzle.’’ he added.
HFC use is increasing rapidly, driven by sales of fridges and air conditioning – especially in fast growing developing countries.
More worryingly, it’s predicted that over 700 million air conditioning units (all using HFC’s) are likely to be installed worldwide by 2030, and 1.6 billion by 2050.
The UN’s climate change department has also projected that global air conditioning energy demand will grow from 300 terawatt hours in 2016 to more than 10,000 terawatts in 2100, with most of the growth coming in developing economies.
The conference, which is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda, is set up in hope that countries approve an amendment to the Montreal protocol. This would cover HFC’s and, over time, eliminate the manufacture of the chemicals – helping reduce global temperatures by around 0.5C by 2100.
What’s more, a phase down of the factory made HFC’s could avoid the equivalent of as much as 200 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050.
The sticking point is that rich countries want the chemicals phased out within 5-10 years, but developing countries – who are a little more reliant on the chemical – have argued for a date closer to 2031, which, they say, will give their chemical industries time to adapt.
But because HFC alternatives, including natural refrigerants such as CO2, and hydrocarbons, already exist, there are no technical reasons why HFC reductions cannot be achieved quickly and inexpensively – per environmentalists.
Promisingly, G7 countries have committed to provide additional funding to help developing countries implement a HFC amendment and last month a group of philanthropists pledged a staggering $53 to help.
Environmentalist Ian Hunter, who works for various environmental agencies said;
‘‘It’s in everyone’s best interests to make an agreement at the Rwanda conference.’’ he said.
‘‘With the proposed funding help being given to the smaller countries, I don’t see any reason why a deal can’t be struck to cut carbon emissions in the next 5 years.’’
Many environmentalists also say that governments could have easily avoided the release of tens of billions of tons of HFC chemicals if they had listened to scientists in the 80’s.
A scientist from Newcastle University, who did not want to be named, said; ‘‘HFC’s were always known to have the potential to increase global warming. Scientists at the time solved the ozone problem but governments chose not to address the situation.’’