On Saturday, nearly 200 countries struck a landmark deal to reduce emission of powerful greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), in a move that could prevent up to 0.5 degree Celsius of global warming by the end of the century.
Following seven years of negotiations, Parties to the Montreal Protocol reached a compromise, under which developed countries will start phasing down HFCs by 2019, while the developing countries, including India, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, will phase out at a baseline of 2024-2026 and a freeze date of 2028. HFCs are widely used in refrigerators, air-conditioners and aerosol sprays.
The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer endorsed is regarded as the single largest contribution the world has made toward keeping the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year.
Erik Solheim, the executive director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) spoke to The New Times’ Athan Tashobya about the significance of the historical agreement reached by the Parties to the 1987 Montreal protocol, in Kigali. Excerpts;-
What is the significance of the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol?
I think this is an absolutely essential agreement we can make this year to reduce global warming by half-a-degree, which may seem a little in amount but it is really huge.
With this agreement, we will be able to avoid many negative effects like drought and cyclones. And, of course, with the majority of the Rwandan population being farmers, they very well understand that having changes in the rain patterns causes a very huge impact on their agriculture.
So to summarise this, the Kigali accord will help in stabilising the global climate…it is a very important agreement. Again, this amendment is a big thing for Rwanda and for Africa. In my view, this is the biggest environment agreement ever made on the African continent.
We have had big agreements happen across the world, including the Paris Agreement, the Montreal Protocol, Nagoya Protocol and others. So, these agreements bring honour and attention to cities and name recognition which is good. This will make Rwandans, Africans and the rest of the world proud.
What should the world expect after the Kigali Amendment?
They should expect us to completely phase out HFCs and all substances that affect the climate. These are the substances we are currently using in refrigerators, air conditioning system, fire-fighting substances. We will introduce some of the new safer gases with a view of avoiding those that destroy the ozone layer.
The world should now work toward a fast phaseout of HFCs, since parties know that there is no future in this old business.
How do you think the world can sustainably mitigate climate change?
As you may know, last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise.
This is about much more than the ozone layer and HFCs. It is a clear statement by all world leaders that the green transformation that started in Paris is irreversible and unstoppable.
Parties should know that the best investments are those in clean, efficient technologies; this is the kind of investment that is environment friendly and can sustainably work for everyone.
Rwanda, for example, as it grows into a middle income economy it needs to encourage efficient green and efficient industrialisation, which will provide jobs for the current generation but keep the environment safe for the future generation.
In which way can you make the phasing down of HFCs work for all the parties?
UNEP is closely working with some experts to facilitate the smooth phase out of the HFCs. We have already deployed people around 147 nations and there is a lot of technical work to be done to change the industrial patterns.
I have met different people in Rwanda, asking them why they think President Paul Kagame has done a lot for Rwanda in such a short time from the 1994 Genocide, and all the answers we get is that, President Kagame’s approach is “less talking and much of work”; this is a exactly what we need to do as environmentalists to achieve goals set by the Paris agreement.
A lot is at stake; climate change is real, global warming is real and we need to start work and talk less. However, the Montreal Protocol is indeed a very successful treaty; everything that parties have promised has been delivered by 200 per cent. We need to be flexible enough and keep this momentum going forward.
The financial support from donors will continue to facilitate the implementation of the Kigali accord, as well as technical expertise to allow the adoption of new technology available in all components. Developed countries should make sure that the new technology, can be produced in India, Africa and all parts of the world
What do you make of India’s earlier proposal that developing nations should not be asked to reduce their use of HFCs until 2031?
India’s position is understandable; they have been willing to phase out but the ambition was asking them for a much bigger outcomes. It is terribly hot there because temperatures can go up to 45 degrees; so they use most of these substances, yet we expect them to stop using it, and again their policy is not using imported technology but their own technology – which is understandable.
We are aware that this might signify a sort of an economic shock to some countries, but it won’t last for long and we are certain that businesses will be able to change so fast and adopt new technologies that are efficient and sustainable to mitigate climate change.
The sooner India and other developing countries are able to change their industrial pattern and turn around, the more they will benefit and it will benefit their industries and the economy.
What alternatives are there for countries, regarding transition from using HFCs?
Again, the very practical example is that we have an officer in every country to share expertise to connect to the much more efficient knowledge and technology available.
Everyone understands that if this new technology is not effortlessly shared with developing countries, our goal will not be achieved. No one expects that the market to sell the new cooling technology will be dominated by a single country.
Major producers of the latest technology have bee moving around the world, in India, China and are looking for possible collaborations.
The world needs about $6 billion to implement the Kigali amendment. How much money is UNEP willing to offer to to enable transition from the dangerous HFCs gases?
Well, we might not offer much but all we can do is to mobilise developed member states to provide the resources for this process.
But I believe that in future it will be less costly than people tend to believe because business community will step up and do the needful than what the international community will be able to do.
All that we needed was this political will, which will allow the private sector to take its course.