The Montreal Protocol: Fit for Hydroflurocarbons

Author:Veronica Kennedy
Position:J.D. candidate, May 2014, at American University Washington College of Law
25WINTER 2012
continued on page 62
by Veronica Kennedy*
As the most successful environmental treaty to date, the
Montreal Protocol1 is the prime arena for implementing
policy to reduce hydrofluorocarbon (“HFC”) emissions
and mitigate the threat of climate change.2 The Montreal Protocol
began phasing out chlorofluorocarbon (“CFC”) production and
consumption in 1989 and has since stopped, and even reversed,
destruction of the ozone layer.3 Hydrochlorofluorocarbons
(“HCFCs”) were produced to replace the highly ozone-depleting
CFCs because of HCFCs’ reduced ozone depleting potential.4 To
completely phase out all ozone depleting substances (“ODSs”),
industrial gas producers introduced HFCs to replace HCFCs.5
Although HFCs have no ozone depleting potential, they have
thousands of times the strength of carbon dioxide to warm the
earth, known as “global warming potential.”6 HFCs, like HCFCs
and CFCs before them, are used in refrigeration and air condition-
ing, solvents, foam production, sterilization, fire extinguishing,
and aerosols.7 The next phase is to replace HFCs with gases
that have low to no global warming potential. Based on current
replacement technology, the treaty’s historical and political suc-
cess, and its legal framework, the Montreal Protocol should
house the HFC phase out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Low to no global warming potential replacement gases are
currently available in each sector of the market.8 Carbon diox-
ide, hydrocarbons, and ammonia are currently used in Europe
and Asia to replace HFCs in foams, refrigeration, and air condi-
tioning.9 Even so, the availability of these alternatives warrants
the Parties to the Protocol to create an HFC phaseout schedule,
forcing the market away from HFCs towards these alternatives.
Furthermore, the treaty’s historical and political success
shows that adding an HFC phaseout schedule is politically
feasible. In 1987, twenty-four countries signed the Montreal
Protocol agreeing to control eight chemicals.10 Today, the treaty
is universally ratified and controls 100 chemicals.11 Much of this
success is due to the flexible legal framework discussed below.
The increase in the number of chemicals for which it provides
phaseout schedules shows that HFCs can be added to the list.
In addition, last November, 108 countries indicated their sup-
port for an HFC phaseout by signing a request for action to cap
HFC consumption.12
The treaty’s legal framework is also conducive to an HFC
phaseout schedule. The Protocol successfully relied on the prin-
ciple of common but differentiated responsibility (“CBDR”) to
bring developing countries on board, allowing these nations an
extended grace period to phase out ODS.13 It also established
assessment panels, which provide the Parties the best available
information for decision-making.14 These principles could also
be applied to an HFC phase out. CBDR could bring financial
and technology transfers to developing countries to aid the
phase out of HFCs without stretching already-limited budgets,
similar to the current Multilateral Fund process.15 Assessment
panels, which allowed Parties to quickly control new chemicals,
could continue to provide the latest scientific information
on replacement gases to HFCs, allowing for stricter control
measures on HFC use.16
The Montreal Protocol was successful in reacting to the
threat of ozone depletion. Since its initial ratification, it has
enabled the Parties to reduce over ninety-seven percent of global
consumption of controlled ODS.17 Considering the replacement
technologies available, the success of the treaty, and its flexible
legal framework, the Montreal Protocol is the best context under
which HFC consumption can be reduced to start mitigating the
threat of climate change.
Endnotes: The Montreal Protocol: Fit for Hydroflurocarbons
1 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Sept. 16,
1987, 27 U.N.T.S. 1522.
2 Climate Politics Delay Phase-Out of Super Greenhouse Gases by Montreal
Protocol: India, China and Brazil Thwart Action on HFCs, CLIMATE CONTROL
CO. ASSN (Jan. 22, 2012, 8:23PM),
3 The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer: The
Evolution of the Montreal Protocol, UNITED NATIONS ENVT PROGRAMME [UNEP]
OZONE SECRETARIAT (Feb. 19, 2012, 10:31PM),
GAS EMISSIONS AND SINKS: 1990–2009 62-63 (2011); U.N. Env’t Programme
and World Meteorological Org., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
[IPCC], Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Changes in Atmospheric
Constituents and in Radiative Forcing in Climate Change 2007: The Physical
Science Basis, 212 (S. Solomon, et al. eds., 2007) (providing HFC-23’s GWP
as 14,800).
5 U.S. EPA, supra note 4.
6 Id.
7 Id.
ACTION FOR OZONE AND CLIMATE PROTECTION 10 (Feb. 20, 2012), http://www.
9 Id. at 10-12.
* Veronica Kennedy is a J.D. candidate, May 2014, at American University
Washington College of Law.