Feedstocks, by-products and intermediates in fluorochemical production processes are a significant source of ODS and HFC emissions. (Source: ivabalk on Pixabay)
Fluorochemical production processes are a significant source of ODS and HFC emissions. (Source: ivabalk on Pixabay)

EIA Calls For ‘Strengthened Controls’ Under the Montreal Protocol to Cut Fluorochemical GHG Emissions

One of the ‘major opportunities’ identified by the NGO is to accelerate the global HFC phasedown with adjustments to the Kigali Amendment.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is calling for “strengthened controls” under the Montreal Protocol to reduce fluorochemical greenhouse gas emissions from “unreported, unaccounted for and unexpected” sources.

A recent paper authored by campaigners from the EIA’s U.K. and U.S. offices examines the origins of these emissions and offers recommendations for their mitigation. The paper was published in the Journal of Integrative Environmental Issues.

According to the international NGO, there are several “major opportunities” to cost-effectively cut the emission of ozone and climate super-pollutants like ODSs and HFCs via changes to the Montreal Protocol. One recommendation is to adjust its Kigali Amendment to facilitate an accelerated HFC phasedown.

“The Montreal Protocol is well known as the most successful environmental treaty, but it can and must do much more,” said Clare Perry, Climate Campaign Leader at the EIA and the paper’s lead author. “What began as the ozone treaty can achieve some important climate mitigation, which we need now more than ever. This treaty has delivered time and again, and it is simply a question of whether the political will of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol is there to do more.”

Other recommendations include strengthening the Protocol’s monitoring, reporting, verification and enforcement (MRV&E) regime, developing a global framework to recover and destroy ODSs and HFCs banks in old equipment and placing obligations on fluorochemical producers to minimize emissions during processing.

“The Montreal Protocol is well known as the most successful environmental treaty, but it can and must do much more.”

Clare Perry, EIA

The EIA has also called on experts to expand the scope of the Montreal Protocol to address nitrous oxide (N2O), which is currently the most significant ODSs in the world and the third most prevalent greenhouse gas. N2O emissions largely originate from the agricultural sector, as well as wastewater, biomass burning, transport and industry.

“The need to take greater climate action that is rapid and meaningful is now more critical than ever,” said the EIA. “The Protocol must be harnessed to secure every possible tonne of mitigation that it can deliver.”

Rogue emissions

To date, the Montreal Protocol has successfully phased out 99% of ODSs, setting the ozone on a path to recovery. While initially established to protect the ozone, it has also had a profound impact on the climate and is projected to avoid a total of 2.5°C (4.5°F) of global warming by 2100.

However, several events over recent years – including the EIA’s discovery of unexplained CFC-11 emissions in China and its detection of f-gas emissions from Honeywell and Chemours plants in the U.S. – raise several questions regarding the long-term sustainability of agreements under the Montreal Protocol, the EIA said in its paper.

Emissions like these, which the EIA say come from feedstocks – chemicals used in the production of other chemicals – by-products and intermediates in fluorochemical production processes, are not currently controlled by the Protocol and amount to almost 870 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

“While the Montreal Protocol’s success should be celebrated, challenges to its ongoing work remain,” the organization added.

Ramping up the HFC phasedown

Under the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment, which was adopted in 2016 and has since been ratified by 159 parties, countries have committed to phasing down their production and consumption of HFCs by 80–85% by 2045. Exact phasedown schedules depend on the country.

With full compliance, the Kigali Amendment is projected to prevent 3.1–4.3 gigatons of CO2e emissions per year by 2050, potentially reducing the impact of HFCs on global average warming by up to 0.4°C (0.7°F) by the end of the century. However, the anticipated 56% reduction in HFC emissions under current phasedown schedules falls short of the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) by 2100, which necessitates a 75–80% reduction in HFC emissions.

Despite phasedown efforts commencing in 2019 for many countries, global HFC emissions have continued to grow rapidly, increasing by 19% since 2016, the EIA noted.

“An acceleration of the global HFC phasedown, through an adjustment to the Kigali Amendment, alongside early action policies to avoid HFC growth in countries that are yet to freeze HFC consumption, would avoid significant additional emissions and be firmly in the interest of all Parties that are pursuing the Paris Agreement goal,” the NGO said.

“An acceleration of the global HFC phasedown, through an adjustment to the Kigali Amendment, alongside early action policies to avoid HFC growth in countries that are yet to freeze HFC consumption, would avoid significant additional emissions.”

EIA

Other interventions

According to a 2022 report from the EIA and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the global total of HCFCs – which are ODSs – and HFCs installed in existing equipment is equivalent to around 24 billion metric tons of CO2e. Despite these banks producing “significant” emissions each year, they are not currently addressed by the Montreal Protocol. Efforts to prevent emissions from existing f-gas banks through better refrigerant management could prevent approximately a cumulative 91 billion metric tons of CO2e by 2100.

In its paper, the EIA has called on Parties of the Montreal Protocol to develop a global framework to support the recovery and destruction of these ODSs and HFCs banks.

The Protocol currently includes exemptions for emissions from feedstocks intermediates and most by-products. However, the scale of ODSs emissions from fluorochemical production processes “should compel the Parties to review these controls,” the EIA argued in its paper.

Under the Kigali Amendment, there is an obligation to destroy HFC-23 emissions generated during the production of HCFCs or HFCs. Similar obligations for all fluorochemical production emissions could have a significant impact, the NGO explained.

“Limiting the feedstock exemption to only substances for which there are no feasible alternatives would also produce significant co-benefits by reducing plastic pollution and emissions of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS),” it added.

For strengthening MRV&E efforts, the NGO has suggested “closing gaps” in global atmospheric monitoring, enhancing reporting requirements, implementing more effective licensing systems and introducing third-party verification of importers and exporters.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that our current trajectory is insufficient to cap warming at 1.5°C,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Director at EIA US. “The Montreal Protocol must ensure deep, sustained and accelerated emissions cuts through strengthened monitoring, reporting and enforcement of fluorochemical emissions and establishing a global framework to recover and destroy these super-pollutants from old equipment and products.”

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