The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol: Another Global Commitment to stop climate change

For many people across the world, the 15th of October, 2016 was just another normal day going about their usual business to accomplish their to-do lists for the day. Perhaps unknown to many outside the world of ‘environment’ and all its jargon, something extremely significant was happening in Africa, in the beautiful Rwanda. Delegates from all over the world had convened in the capital, Kigali from October 10-15, for the 28th Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol.

Back in the 1920’s, coolants and fridges were discovered to be very toxic, causing severe health complications to humans. CFCs were the solution to address this, but decades later, CFCs were also found to be the root cause of a hole in the stratosphere- commonly referred to as the ozone hole. The ozone layer is the natural shield against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which can cause severe health risks such as skins cancers. This damage to the ozone layer prompted governments to moot an environmental agreement to govern the production and use of harmful substances that damage the ozone.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was designed to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to reduce their abundance in the atmosphere, and thereby protect the earth’s fragile ozone Layer. The protocol was agreed on September 16th in 1987 and entered into force on January 1st in 1989.

A unique feature of the protocol is an adjustment provision that enables the Parties to the Protocol to respond quickly to new scientific information, in a bid to accelerate the reductions required on chemicals already covered by the Protocol. These adjustments are then automatically applicable to all countries that ratified the Protocol. Developing countries are given more time to comply with the phase out decisions, and also they receive funding from the Multilateral Fund to facilitate compliance with the Protocol’s provisions.

In Kigali, delegates worked tirelessly day and night to negotiate and reach a deal on a timetable that would mandate countries to phase down the production and usage of hydroflourocarbons (HFCs). Following seven years of continuous consultations, Parties to the Montreal Protocol struck a landmark legally binding deal to reduce the emissions of powerful greenhouse gases in a move that could prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of this century, while continuing to protect the ozone layer.  HFCs are man-made chemicals that are primarily used in air conditioning, refrigeration and foam insulation, and are powerful greenhouse gases that can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change.

The 2015 Africa Adaptation Gap Report observes that for a below 20C global warming scenario the agriculture sector will be hit by up to 40% yield declines, and result in a 25 – 90% increase in incidences of undernourishment putting 50% of Africa’s population under risk of undernourishment, not to mention massive economic losses given that the sector employs up to 64 per cent labor and contributes up to 34 per cent to GDP on average.

“Africa is a continent that is deeply vulnerable to climate change. We are witnessing disastrous droughts — our people are losing lives. We need to address climate change if we are to address poverty,” said Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s Minister of Natural Resources.

Environmental experts note that the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer could be the single largest real contribution the world has made so far towards keeping the global temperature rise "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year; this amendment is a huge step forward to achieving that target.

The talks in Kigali may not have attracted as much attention as the Paris event last year, but the outcome from the meeting is expected to have even greater impact on Parties’ efforts to slow down climate change.

The new deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with more planet-friendly alternatives, provisions to prohibit or restrict countries that have ratified the protocol or its amendments from trading in controlled substances with states that are yet to ratify it, and an agreement by rich countries to help finance the transition of poor countries to alternative safer products. Notably, African countries opted to phase down the chemicals faster than required, citing the grave threats the region faces due to climate change.

Top officials from the chemical industry, including producers of the chemicals, manufacturers of equipment that use HFCs were also in Kigali; a demonstration that companies throughout the HFCs supply chain support strong global action on these harmful substances.

The final deal divided the world economies into three groups, each with a target phasedown date. The richest countries, including the United States and those in the European Union, will reduce the production and consumption of HFCs from 2019. Much of the rest of the world, including China, Brazil and all of Africa, will freeze the use of HFCs by 2024. A small group of the world’s hottest countries such as Bahrain, India, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have the most lenient schedule and will freeze HFCs use by 2028.

As pressure mounts on governments worldwide for less talk and more action to address climate change, the Kigali Amendment is indeed, a commendable move that adds momentum to a series of new global climate change agreements, including the Paris agreement which will officially enter into force next month on 4 November, 2016.

For more information, please contact: Mohamed Atani, Regional Communication Officer, UN Environment, Africa Office, Nairobi, Kenya; Tel: +254 20 76 24235; Mobile: +254 (0)727531253 ; Email: mohamed.atani@unep.org

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