In the early hours of October 15, representatives of almost 200 nations struck a landmark deal to phase down the production and use of HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons). Developed and developing nations meeting in the Rwandan capital Kigali adopted an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that could prevent 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.
HFCs are widely seen as the world’s fastest-growing climate pollutant and are used in air-conditioners and refrigerators. President Barack Obama hailed the deal as “an ambitious and far-reaching solution to this looming crisis.”
The Kigali agreement—which is legally binding for all 197 parties to the Montreal Protocol—sees developed countries take the lead on phasing down these potent greenhouse gases, starting with a 10% reduction in 2019 and delivering an 85% cut in 2036 (compared with the 2011-2013 baseline).
Developing countries are divided into two groups. The first one—which includes China and African nations—will freeze consumption of HFCs by 2024, with their first reduction steps starting in 2029. A second group including India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Persian Gulf nations will meet a later deadline, freezing their use of these gases in 2028 and reducing consumption from 2032.
The amendment takes the planet “about 90% of the way” to reducing reduce global warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. This is the “largest temperature reduction ever achieved by a single agreement,” he said.
The Kigali agreement is “equal to stopping the entire world’s fossil-fuel CO2 emissions for more than two years,” said David Doniger, climate and clean air program director at the Natural Resources Defense Institute.
With a clear phase-down schedule now in place, hopes are high that the market will step up to deliver the targets enshrined in the deal.
“Compromises had to be made, but 85% of developing countries have committed to the early schedule starting 2024, which is a very significant achievement,” said Clare Perry of the Environmental Investigation Agency.
Some African and Pacific island nations—arguing that their countries face the biggest threat from climate change—had wanted the agreement to go further.
“It may not be entirely what the islands wanted, but it is a good deal,” said Mattlan Zackhras, the minister-in-assistance to the president of the Marshall Islands, which face inundation should sea levels continue to rise.