Nairobi – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has welcomed an agreement by world leaders at the G20 summit in Moscow to renew efforts to tackle climate change by reducing emissions of potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
Governments from some 25 nations and the European Union agreed that phasing down the use of HFCs – carried out in parallel to reductions of carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – will make a vital contribution to tackling the effects of climate change.
HFCs are widely used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and industrial applications as replacements for ozone-depleting substances being phased out under the UN’s universally-ratified Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.
HFC emissions represent less than 1 per cent of current total greenhouse gases, but their warming impact is considerably stronger than CO₂.
If left unchecked, they could account for up to nearly 20 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
According to UNEP, fast action on HFCs and other non-CO₂ pollutants, could cut the rate of global warming by up to 0.5 degrees Celsius, reduce crop losses by over 30 million tonnes a year, and save millions of lives through fewer respiratory illnesses.
“The leaders of the G20 group of nations have provided another positive signal towards the goal of realizing a universal climate agreement by 2015 under the UN climate convention and the ultimate aim of sharply bringing down greenhouse gas emissions in line with the scientific imperative,” said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.
“A sense of urgency and a willingness to act down multiple tracks is of the essence. While many countries can point to positive action in respect to emissions and a transition to a low carbon, resource-efficient and inclusive green economy, the stark reality is that levels of pollution in the atmosphere continue to rise with all the risks to lives, livelihoods and the global economy this entails,” added Mr Steiner.
In the G20 Leaders Declaration, governments agreed that the success of the Montreal Protocol – which has overseen a 98 per cent of all global consumption of controlled ozone-depleting substances, and contributed to tens of millions of cases of avoided skin cancer and cataracts – should be harnessed to phase down the use of HFCs.
“Climate change will continue to have a significant impact on the world economy, and cost will be higher to the extent we delay additional actions,“ reads the G20 statement.
“We reiterate our commitment to fight climate change and welcome the outcome of the 18th conference of the Parties to the UN climate change conferences. We also support complementary initiatives, through multilateral approaches that include using the expertise and the institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), based on the examination of economically viable and technically feasible alternatives.”
The statement was signed by the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, as well as Ethiopia, Spain, Senegal, Brunei, Kazakhstan, and Singapore.
China and USA Renew Bilateral Efforts
In a separate agreement at the G20 summit, President Obama of the USA and President Xi of China agreed to establish a contact group on HFCs under the Montreal Protocol to consider issues related to cost-effectiveness, financial and technology support, safety, and environmental benefits.
The decision follows an announcement by both countries in June 2013 on closer co-operation to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, while continuing to include HFCs within the scope of UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol provisions for accounting and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate and Clean Air Coalition
UNEP in partnership with over 60 countries and organizations is working to phase down the use of HFCs and other substances known as short-lived climate pollutants, including black carbon or 'soot' and methane, under the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC).
The voluntary coalition – founded in 2012 - is promoting rapid reductions in short-lived climate pollutants to tackle air pollution, improve human health and agriculture, and provide near-term climate benefits.
Under a business-as-usual scenario, according to UNEP, by 2050 HFCs could be responsible for emissions equivalent to 3.5 to 8.8 Gigatonnes (Gt) of CO₂. This is equivalent to the total current annual carbon emissions from transport, estimated at around 6-7 Gt.
The coalition states that actions on short term climate pollutants need to be complemented by deep and rapid cuts in CO₂ emissions if the global average temperature increase over the 21st Century is to be held below 2°C.
Among its many activities, the CCAC is working with 10 major cities including Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Stockholm, Accra, and New York to accelerate methane reductions from landfills and black carbon or ‘soot’ from burning wastes.
Notes to Editors
G20 Leaders Declaration: http://en.g20russia.ru/
Climate and Clean Air Coalition: http://www.unep.org/ccac/
UNEP’s 2011 report Near-Term Climate Protection and Clean Air Benefits outlines 16 measures to be implemented immediately in order to ensure significant emissions reduction of SLCPs.
The report is available at: http://www.unep.org/pdf/Near_Term_Climate_Protection_&_Air_Benefits.pdf
UNEP Ozone Secretariat: http://ozone.unep.org/new_site/en/index.php
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