KIGALI: Envoys from nearly 200 nations meet in Kigali, Rwanda, on Thursday to discuss ridding the world of HFCs, gases introduced to save the ozone layer only to unwittingly assail Earth’s climate.
Representatives of 197 countries — among them 40 ministers including US Secretary of State John Kerry — are attending the summit.
Delegates are hopeful that after years of talks, countries are now poised to commit to phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), introduced in the 1990s to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigerators, aerosols, air conditioners and foam insulation.
CFCs were discontinued under the ozone-protecting Montreal Protocol when scientists realized they were responsible for the growing hole in the ozone layer, which protects Earth from the Sun’s dangerous ultraviolet rays.
But it turned out that HFCs — while safe for the now-healing ozone — are thousands of times more potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.
“We are meeting here in Kigali with unity of purpose: to pass an ambitious amendment to the Protocol that would phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons,” said Rwanda’s natural resources minister Vincent Biruta.
“We have a unique opportunity to harness the goodwill and commitment to protect our climate and secure the bright future our citizens deserve,” he said.
HFCs “are increasing at a rate of 10 to 15 percent a year”, said Greenpeace global strategist Paula Carbajal, making them “the fastest-growing greenhouse gas”.
Carbajal said HFCs could add as much as 0.1 degrees Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) to average global temperatures by mid-century, and 0.5 C (0.9 F) by 2100.
The higher figure represents more than a quarter of the “well under” 2 C ceiling that 195 nations agreed in the French capital in December for warming over pre-industrial levels.
The goal was enshrined in the so-called Paris Agreement on curbing dangerous climate change.
“If HFC growth is not stopped, it becomes virtually impossible to meet the Paris goals,” said David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
Wael Hmaidan, international director of Climate Action Network, a coalition of NGOs, called for “an ambitious deal” to be signed in Kigali.
This week’s meeting, which kicked off on Monday, is the 28th of the treaty’s 197 country parties.
India, which is a major HFC producer along with China, backs the later date, while countries in very hot parts of the world where HFC-using air conditioners are in high demand want temporary exemptions.