For a more detailed FAQ

Montreal Protocol FAQ by IGSD, August 2007


1. What is the Montreal Protocol?

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was negotiated in 1987 to regulate production and consumption of chemicals that damage the ozone layer, referred to as ozone-depleting substances (ODS).

The Montreal Protocol is considered the world’s best international environmental agreement.  It has successfully phased-out the production of 95% of ozone-damaging chemicals in developed countries and 50-75% in developing countries.

As a result, the ozone layer is expected to recover later this century.  But scientists recently reported a five year delay in recovery, partly due to increases in HCFC use.

Because many ODSs also are powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs) responsible for climate change, the Montreal Protocol’s past success in phasing-out CFCs is reducing GHG emissions by 135 billion tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (GtCO2-eq.) by the end of the decade.  This is delaying climate change by up to 12 years.  Eliminating HCFCs will provide additional emissions reductions and delay climate change further.


2. What are HCFCs and how can they be eliminated?

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are a group of chemicals used mainly as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners and to make insulating foams and other products. They are being used as temporary substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ODSs that are even more dangerous to the ozone and climate, and were intended to be replaced once superior substitutes became available.

In addition to warming the planet, HCFCs damage the ozone layer. As a result, they are regulated by the Montreal Protocol. Under the Montreal Protocol, HCFCs are scheduled for phase-out by 2030 in developed countries (with 99.5% phased out by 2020) and 2040 in developing countries (with HCFC use frozen in 2016 at 2015 levels).

HCFC use is increasing dramatically in developing countries. Without immediate action, it will reach dangerous levels by 2016, the current date for freezing HCFC use.  This will delay recovery of the ozone layer and contribute to further climate change.

Argentina and Brazil and other Parties propose accelerating the HCFC phase-out to prevent this dangerous growth.  The Argentina-Brazil proposal would move the 2016 freeze year to an earlier year, e.g. 2010, and would add interim reduction steps, e.g. 50% reduction by 2025, on the way to the final phase-out in 2040.

The strong support for the accelerated phase-out is driven by a concern over avoiding the tipping point for abrupt climate change.  The small island and coastal states of Micronesia, Mauritius, and Mauritania, along with the United States, and Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, also are proposing an accelerated HCFC phase-out.  In June the G8 Summit Declaration added further support, committing to “accelerating the phase-out of HCFCs in a way that supports energy efficiency and climate change objectives.”


3. What are the climate and ozone benefits of accelerating the HCFC phase-out?

Accelerating the HCFC phase-out could reduce GHG emissions by more than 25 GtCO2-eq., starting almost immediately and continuing until mid-century. This is roughly five times the climate reductions expected under the climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol.

This can delay further warming and can help the climate system from passing the tipping point for abrupt and irreversible climate change.  This will buy some much needed time to make the steep emissions cuts necessary to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.

This is important for developing countries, who face the greatest risk from climate change and will be hardest hit by rising sea levels, increased storms, droughts, and floods, decreased agricultural production and freshwater supply, among other impacts.

The accelerated HCFC phase-out also will speed the recovery of the ozone layer, which is on track to return to pre-1980 levels sometime later this century, since scientists recently reported a five year delay in recovery, partly due to increases in HCFC use. 


4. Do substitutes exist for HCFCs?

Yes.  Technical experts have identified substitutes for nearly all applications of HCFCs. The Montreal Protocol also has a history of its progressive regulations and clear phase-out dates motivating the market to innovate and develop new substitute chemicals and technologies that are good for climate, for the ozone layer, and for industry’s bottom line.


5. How much will it cost to accelerate the HCFC phase-out?

Preliminary estimates on the cost of accelerating the HCFC phase-out range from U.S. $1-3 billion, but further evaluation is needed to determine amore precise estimate. In terms of value, this is one of the most cost effective reductions in GHG emissions available. By comparison, under the European Union’s climate program, the EU Emissions Trading System, public and private sectors spent more than U.S.$30 billion to reduce 1.6 GtCO2-eq. in 2006.

Developed countries have signaled a willingness to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries to make the transition out of HCFCs, through the Montreal Protocol’s financial mechanism.  The formal negotiations on funding are scheduled to take place in 2008. 


6.  What else should the Montreal Protocol do to protect the climate?

HCFCs need to be replaced by substitute chemicals that are more climate-friendly, and the refrigeration and air conditioning equipment in which they are used needs to be redesigned to improve energy efficiency. Substitute chemicals with lower Global Warming Potentials (GWPs) than HCFCs exist and are expected to be available to replace most uses of HCFCs. Further regulation will help create incentives for continued development of these climate-friendly substitutes.

Improving energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest, and most effective way to fight climate change, because it means fewer GHG emissions from power generation. Refrigeration and air conditioning equipment has grown more and more energy efficient over the last 30 years, in some cases using 65% less energy than equipment manufactured in the 1970s. 

The accelerated HCFC phase-out could help spur a similar jump in energy efficiency as part of the transition out of HCFC-based equipment.

Argentina and Brazil, as well as other Parties, emphasize the need to use low GWP substitutes as well as the most energy efficient equipment available.  This is critical for maximizing the climate benefits of the accelerated HCFC phase-out.  This is supported by the G-8 Declaration: “Improving energy efficiency worldwide is the fastest, the most sustainable and the cheapest way to reduce GHG emissions and enhance energy security… . The global potential for saving energy … could contribute to 80% of avoided GHGs while substantially increasing security of supply.”