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World's Most Effective Environmental Treaty Turns 30

Climate
The ozone hole is starting to heal. NASA

By David Doniger and Alex Hillbrand

This is a big year for the Montreal Protocol—the 30th anniversary of the world's most successful environmental protection agreement.

Every country on Earth is a party to this treaty, which has prevented catastrophic destruction of the ozone layer that protects us from the sun's dangerous ultraviolet radiation. Phasing out ozone-destroying chemicals has also provided a huge climate protection side-benefit, because many of those chemicals are also powerful heat-trapping agents. Countries took climate protection a step farther by adopting the Kigali Amendment to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in October 2016.


Representatives of the parties, industry and nongovernmental organizations are gathered this week in Bangkok. Topping the agenda are steps to complete the accelerated phase-out of the last generation of ozone-depleting chemicals—the hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)—agreed in 2007, by negotiating the next three year "replenishment" of funding to assist developing countries in meeting their reduction commitments. Countries are also discussing the role of the Montreal Protocol in supporting energy efficiency improvements as a co-benefit of transitioning to environmentally friendly refrigerants in air conditioners and refrigeration.

The funding branch of the Montreal Protocol, the Multilateral Fund (MLF), covers the agreed incremental costs that developing countries incur to meet their obligations under the Protocol. Every three years, countries agree to replenish the MLF to support country programs to help convert from old to new substances and from old to new product designs. This week, negotiations will begin for the period 2018-2020, ultimately leading to an agreed replenishment level at the Meeting of the Parties in November 2017.

The bulk of the MLF's activity in the next three-year period will focus on the phase-out of HCFCs. It will also include funding for countries to avoid transitioning to HFCs with high climate-warming power (global warming potential or GWP) by leapfrogging straight from ozone-depleting chemicals to low-GWP alternatives. This will help avoid the buildup of HFC-using equipment that must later be replaced . Funding over the next three years will also include money for important preliminary HFC-related activities. Eligible HFC-specific initial activities have been under discussion since last October and were recently agreed by the MLF's governing Executive Committee (ExCom).

Last week, the ExCom agreed that the MLF will fund a list of initial "enabling activities" (i.e., activities that precede preparation of national implementation plans) to support the phasedown of HFCs, including supporting country actions for early Kigali Amendment ratification, work on institutional arrangements and licensing systems, data reporting on HFC production and consumption, and more.

In addition, the committee agreed to fund a limited number of HFC phase-down investment projects not tied to any country plan to phase down HFCs. These pilot-type projects will help the MLF determine typical costs for HFC conversions, and will aid ExCom as it writes guidelines for how much funding should be made available for HFC phase-down activities. These projects will offer leadership companies in developing countries a great opportunity to start phasing down HFCs early, with financial support from the Protocol.

Countries also requested a study on the most cost-effective ways to destroy HFC-23, a super-potent by-product of HCFC-22 production, with a GWP 14,800 times that of carbon dioxide. The first major commitment of developing countries under the Kigali Amendment is mandatory destruction of HFC-23 starting Jan. 1, 2020. Better understating the costs will help the MLF allocate funds for the required destruction. Key issues surrounding funding eligibility, however, will not be addressed by this study.

While the vast majority of the funding for the 2018-2020 replenishment will be devoted to the HCFC phase-out, these three ExCom decisions begin to build the framework for implementing the Kigali Amendment and will guide parties to provide additional funding for preliminary HFC-related activities. The Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP), which advises the parties on the replenishment, will now be able to add HFC-related activities to its replenishment report, which provides advice to the parties on funding.

The TEAP's final report will be done in advance of the Meeting of the Parties in November 2017, at which the total funding for the replenishment will be agreed. A robust funding package for the 2018-2020 replenishment will help developing countries complete the HCFC phase-out and start the HFC phase-down ahead of schedule. To fulfill the promise of the Kigali Amendment, it will be important for funding countries to provide ample support to allow countries to leapfrog HFCs whenever possible and, in addition, to begin setting the stage for the full phasedown of HFCs in the years to come.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.