'Global phase down of a/c coolant now a must'

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​Kigali (Rwanda), Oct 11 (IANS) A British charity on Tuesday warned that if the nearly 200 countries participating in a climate change conference here don't agree on an ambitious date for ending the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), their pledges contained in the Paris Agreement will be broken.

The 28th meeting of the Parties to the 1989 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer began in this Rwandan capital on October 10 and is attempting to freeze as early as 2020 an agreement to eventually eliminate the use of HFCs, commonly used in air-conditioners and refrigerators.

Christian Aid's Senior Policy Officer Gaby Drinkwater, who is attending the talks, said it was in the interest of both the developed and developing nations to phase out HFCs as early as possible.

She said as people in developing countries sought more air-conditioners and refrigerators, a heavy expansion of HFCs could deal a significant blow to the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and set back any progress made on keeping global warming at two degrees Celsius.

"HFCs were created to replace other chemicals, some of which we discovered were putting a hole in the ozone layer. But we didn't realise that in HFCs we had created something which could devastate the climate," Drinkwater told IANS.

"HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide so it's essential that we stop making them. The good news is we've already created their benign replacements, which are also more energy efficient. We now need to start using them, in conjunction with controlling the destruction of existing HFCs in a safe way," she added.

Negotiations in Kigali, which will conclude on October 14, will focus on agreeing to an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, including the date when HFCs must be phased-out.

Some countries are pushing for a date closer to 2031 while others want a much more ambitious timeline in the early 2020s.

Richer countries have already committed funds to help developing countries make the transition and leap-frog to the safer alternatives.

Drinkwater said countries had nothing to fear from a rapid phase down.

"By leapfrogging polluting HFCs, developing countries can cut their energy use, reduce their climate impact, ensure they deliver on their Paris Agreement pledges and benefit from financial support towards equipment upgrades.

The combination of removing HFCs and the energy efficiency savings of new technology could see global temperatures reduced by a full degree centigrade by the end of the century," Drinkwater said in a statement.

The Christian Aid charity works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time.

Tina Birmpili, Executive Secretary of the Ozone Secretariat, said projected increases in demand for cooling mean that, by mid-century, more energy will be used on cooling than on heating.

She underlined how this trend makes reaching an agreement on an HFC phasedown, combined with efforts to improve energy efficiency, as crucial to mitigating climate change.

"We're looking to India and other world leaders to show greater flexibility on reaching an amendment to phase down HFCs," Nehmat Kaur, who is India representative on the Natural Resources Defense Council, told IANS.

"There is an economic case for countries, including India, to advance its timeframe for the phase-down. The new $80 million dollar fund is a strong signal for early action. Things are looking positive for a strong and ambitious amendment this week," she added.

Experts say though HFCs do not harm the ozone layer, but have a high global warming potential.

Their elimination will ultimately help avoiding an up to 0.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperature by the end of the century and will significantly contribute towards the global goal of staying well below two degrees.

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