Those of you who follow this type of thing will know that the annual Montreal Protocol negotiations are going on right now in Paris. The US is (again) trying to get HFCs added to the meeting agenda so that formal discussions on incorporating HFCs into the treaty can officially begin. The US has attempted to get this topic on the agenda for the past several (five?) years, but other countries have protested and prevented the topic from even being discussed as part of the official meeting. The US has tried in the past to proceed with their proposal by holding unofficial side meetings on HFCs with interested countries, but as the term “side” meetings suggests, these meetings have been sideshows, while the main event has proceeded with nary a mention of HFCs.
The main blocker last year was India, but thanks to a recent agreement between President Obama and Prime Minister Modi (of India), India did not prevent discussions from starting this year. Good, right? Kind of. You see, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain DID protest against the topic of HFCs being taken up this year. What does that mean? We’ll see.
Why should you care?
Some would say that you shouldn’t. Even if HFCs stay on the agenda, and official conversations on amending the Protocol begin, it might take the governments of the whole world a bit of time to discuss the issue and agree on terms. How long do you think it will take for close to 200 governments to come to agreement? On top of that, the current proposal would start in 2018 and only reach very significant cuts in 2030-2035. The chemical manufacturers are already talking about pushing that timeline back. Will anyone still want or need to use HFCs in 2040? Perhaps, but I’d hope we are already beyond that. Also, the US EPA is currently taking action on its own to regulate HFCs, so the chances are high that we will already be well beyond the Montreal Protocol limits when and if they do go into effect.
One reason you might care is that if the Montreal Protocol is amended to include HFCs, it would be the first time that the US signs an international climate change agreement. Of course, those involved will go out of their way not to call it a climate change agreement – they’ll call it an HFC agreement or something else that they hope won’t get Senator Inhofe all riled up.
Another reason you should care is that US obligations under a Montreal Protocol amendment would make the EPA’s HFC regulations somewhat immune to politics. The current actions by the EPA on HFCs are being pushed by the Obama administration under his executive power. A new administration in 2017 could have a very different agenda, and a new EPA Administrator could theoretically put the kibosh on future HFC regulations altogether. A Montreal Protocol Amendment would make action by the EPA on HFCs mandatory, because any administration is required to follow an international treaty that has been signed by the US.
More to come as the negotiations continue …