Some of the most vulnerable countries in the world just sent a clear message that they want leaders to agree to a strong agreement to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) this year under the Montreal Protocol. World leaders have a chance to minimize the damages to those countries if they act decisively next month and agree to significant cuts in the use of these super-potent, heat-trapping chemicals.
At the recent meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum, many island nations put their support behind an ambitious deal at the Montreal Protocol negotiations in October. Capable of avoiding warming of up to 0.5°C by 2100, an agreement on HFCs is critical to upholding the Paris Agreement's ambition of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. As the Pacific Islands Forum communique states
"Leaders stressed that the amendment should include an early freeze date for HFC production and consumption followed by a rapid phase down of HFCs."
Proposals vary widely for the timing of the HFC phase down schedule. Countries are already converging on a phasedown schedule for developed countries, likely to start in 2019. The timing for the phasedown schedule of developing countries is under serious debate, with widely diverging proposals. The Africa Group, Pacific Island countries, leading Latin American and Caribbean countries, the U.S., European Union, Japan, and other developed countries have the most ambitious proposal, with a freeze on HFC use for developing countries to begin in 2021. Other Latin American and Asian countries have indicated their willingness to freeze in 2025, while China and Pakistan are proposing 2025--2026 as their preferred freeze years. The Chinese recently committed to help achieve an "an early freeze date and ambitious phase down schedule," so there might be flexibility in this initial proposal. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States suggested 2028, and Iran 2029. India, seeking to continue HFC growth for another 15 years, is proposing a freeze in 2031. The 10-year gap between leading and lagging proposals makes a major environmental difference: waiting for the developing countries to freeze in 2031, would allow at least 15 billion extra CO 2 tons of HFC use - close to half the entire world's CO2 output for an entire year.
A strong HFC phase down schedule matters a lot to the most vulnerable. The Pacific Island leaders welcomed the Dubai Pathway for reaching an amendment on HFCs this year, and pushed for an agreement to be reached at the Kigali meeting this October. Without a strong global commitment to reaching a deal in Kigali, the very existences of these island nations is threatened. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of the Marshall Islands John Silk emphasized:
"Today's communique is a clarion call to action that even with the Paris Agreement, there remains a lot of work to do to guarantee there will still be 16 seats at the Pacific Islands Forum in a hundred years from now."
Members of the Pacific Islands Forum account for less than 2 percent of global emissions, with many island stands accounting for less than 0.01 percent of global emissions. But these states have already suffered devastating storms and cyclones of increasing severity and flooding. When leaders debate the exact freeze date, we should keep in mind the consequences for these most vulnerable nations that had such a small role in creating the problems we face.
Over 100 countries currently support an early freeze on the use and production of HFCs. Next month, when parties gather in Kigali, the key task will be for other world leaders to seize the moment and agree to a strong freeze date and phasedown schedule. The most vulnerable need an agreement, but as the Pacific Island leaders pointed out, they don't just need any agreement - they need an ambitious one.
The stage has been set - now can we get a deal that the climate, and the Pacific Islands, deserve?
(The Forty-Seventh Pacific Islands Forum was attended by Heads of State and Government and Deputies from Australia, the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Republic of Fiji, Niue, the Republic of Palau, and Kiribati. Additional attendees included French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Tokelau as Associate Members, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, Timor-Leste, and Wallis and Futuna.)
This post was co-written with Han Chen and Alex Hillbrand.