The UNFCCC is not the only multilateral process considering climate protections this year. The Montreal Protocol (MOP) is negotiating over four separate proposals to phase down HFCs, which are powerful greenhouse gases. Phasing down HFC production and consumption under the Montreal Protocol now enjoys the support of the vast majority of countries, both developed and developing.
Support from nearly all countries makes an HFC agreement possible this November – something that seemed beyond reach only a year ago. The two treaty regimes can co-exist nicely. Countries can curb HFC production and consumption under the MOP while continuing to account for their HFC emissions under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.
However, seemingly out of nowhere, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a new blocker, taking the baton from those who previously held it.
It seems weird that Saudi Arabia is obstructing, knowing that from their perspective phasing down HFCs should help free up little more carbon space for their more valuable sources of GHGs (‘hint hint’). Why is Saudi Arabia working against its own national and global interest, and also harming its closest ally, the UAE, the host of the MOP this year in November?
Saudi Arabia says its concern is that alternative coolants may not be as viable in regions with high temperatures, such as the Middle East. However, technical experts say that suitable alternatives already exist and more are under development, and that the phase-down regime can accommodate any such needs. So it seems Saudi Arabia’s reasons for blocking an HFC phase down are political and not technical.
Achieving an HFC phase-down under the Montreal Protocol in November would provide momentum for Paris and a good demonstration of action that can be taken to close the pre-2020 emissions gap. Phasing down HFCs will be the hottest issue for this year’s negotiations under the Montreal Protocol and the issue that can make or break the November meeting.