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October 1, 2007
Volume 85, Number 40
p. 11

Treaty Update

Nations Speed Up HCFC Elimination

Ten-year acceleration comes on 20th anniversary of Montreal protocol

Michael McCoy

Marking the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Montreal protocol, representatives from nations around the world have agreed to accelerate the phaseout of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an international agreement mandating the elimination of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Long used to manufacture refrigeration equipment and polymer foams, CFCs were found in the 1970s to be depleting the stratosphere's protective ozone layer.

The landmark 1987 agreement permitted manufacturers to employ less-damaging HCFCs as an interim substitute for CFCs. It required that HCFCs be phased out by 2030 in developed nations and by 2040 in developing ones and replaced by substances with no ozone depletion potential.

The update, signed on Sept. 21 by 190 countries and the European Commission at the close of a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) conference in Montreal, brings those phaseout dates forward by 10 years. In addition to aiding the healing of the ozone layer, delegates noted, the acceleration could be equivalent to the elimination of up to 25 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, because many HCFCs have a high global-warming potential.

"'Historic' is an often overused word, but not in the case of this agreement," said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, at the Montreal meeting.

The new accord is being backed by refrigerant-gas manufacturers such as Arkema and DuPont, which have been working to move customers to HCFC replacements ahead of any deadlines. Arkema, for example, recently opened a $45 million plant in Calvert City, Ky., that produces HFC-32, a hydrofluorocarbon used in a blend of refrigerants that replaces HCFC-22. And last week, the company announced a joint venture with Japan's Daikin to build a plant in China for HFC-125, another component of the blend.

Environmental groups offered tempered support for the agreement. At the meeting, a Greenpeace representative cautioned against replacing HCFCs with HFCs that don't deplete ozone but still have a high global-warming potential. David Doniger, policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center, praised the quicker HCFC phaseout but lamented that the U.S. received permission at the meeting to keep making the ozone-depleting pesticide methyl bromide four years after a ban was supposed to take effect.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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