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The Kigali Amendment

The New Year celebrations are now behind us and a return to work is looming together with our New Year’s resolutions; promises to ourselves to change our daily habits towards a greener planet or to be better people. A few days into the new year, there is a good chance that we may have already broken some of our resolutions. However, there is one we cannot afford to break.

On the first day of 2019, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol – a global resolution to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions mainly from the cooling industry – entered into force, and the participating countries now must adhere to their commitments.

If we needed a reminder of why we must act, 2018 gave it to us in spades. We witnessed extreme weather events across the globe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we only have until 2030 to meet the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions rose to a new high.

With the Kigali Amendment, nations have a chance to repaint this grim picture. They are promising to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), in refrigerators, air conditioners and related products by more than 80% over the next 30 years. Cutting the use of these powerful climate-warming gases could avoid up to 0.4°C of global warming by the end of the century, while continuing to protect the ozone layer. The Amendment also opens a window to redesign cooling equipment to make them more energy efficient. Actions to phase down HFCs and enhance energy efficiency can increase the effects of actions taken in isolation.

With the Kigali Amendment, we have a real chance to take a big bite out of climate change. With this in mind, everybody involved in the Montreal Protocol worked hard throughout 2018 to ensure the Kigali Amendment hits the ground running.

We have ratifications from 65 parties (as of 21 December 2018), with more expected. The parties have put in place practical arrangements for the implementation of the Amendment. They have agreed on technologies for the destruction of HFCs and adopted new data reporting requirements and tools. Enabling activities are also already underway. With funding from the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol, parties are building their capacity, strengthening institutions and developing national strategies to ensure we tackle HFCs quickly and decisively.

This preparatory activity gives us hope that we can succeed, as does the Montreal Protocol’s record at keeping its resolutions. The latest report from the Scientific Assessment Panel of the Montreal Protocol, released at the 30th Meeting of the Parties in November 2018, shows that the ozone layer in parts of the stratosphere has recovered at a rate of 1-3% per decade since 2000. At projected rates, Northern Hemisphere and mid-latitude ozone will heal completely by the 2030s, followed by the Southern Hemisphere in the 2050s and the Antarctic ozone hole to gradually close by 2060. This healing is a direct result of the banning, under the Montreal Protocol, of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other substances that were tearing a hole in the ozone layer and letting harmful UV-B radiation damage human and ecosystem health.

But the events of 2018 also showed us that we must be careful to preserve this progress in the face of new threats. A scientific study revealed an unexpected and persistent increase in global emissions of trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) in recent years, despite the reported elimination of production.

These emissions can slow down the recovery of the ozone layer if they continue, which is why the Montreal Protocol parties have acted swiftly. At the Meeting of the Parties, they ordered a conclusive scientific investigation into the emissions and agreed on a path forward in resolving the issue. While the new emissions are worrying, the fact that we detected them shows that the monitoring, networks and science in place to protect the ozone layer are working. Had scientists not been monitoring the atmosphere, we would be none the wiser about these unexpected emissions.

Dealing decisively with the unexpected emissions of CFC-11 will raise the bar of expectations of delivery by Montreal Protocol institutions. To do that, we should pause, reflect on what worked well for 31 years, and identify what can be strengthened and renewed. We are evolving together with a treaty that has been keeping us proud and successful for so long.

As 2019 begins, we can be quietly satisfied with the work we have done in getting the Kigali Amendment up and running. But we must remember that much more effort lies ahead if we are to preserve and build on the gains we have made for human health, economies and the planet.