October 15, 2016: In Kigali, 197 countries agreed to phase down the production and usage of hydroflourocarbons (HFCs) as an amendment to the international treaty called The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol). The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was designed to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to reduce their abundance in the atmosphere, and thereby protect the earth’s fragile ozone Layer .

What are HFCs? Here is a brief history of HFCs from the UNEP website:

Back in the 1920’s, coolants and fridges were discovered to be very toxic, causing severe health complications to humans. CFCs were the solution to address this, but decades later, CFCs were also found to be the root cause of a hole in the stratosphere- commonly referred to as the ozone hole. The ozone layer is the natural shield against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which can cause severe health risks such as skins cancers. This damage to the ozone layer prompted governments to moot an environmental agreement to govern the production and use of harmful substances that damage the ozone.

Zahra Hirji writes well about HFCs for lay people in an article about the Kigali Amendment published by Inside Climate News:

Except from the article:

What are HFCs?

Hydrofluorocarbons are gases primarily used for cooling in air conditioners and refrigerators. They were developed by the chemical industry to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were found to deplete the ozone layer that shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Under the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement developed in 1987 and entered into force in 1989, countries agreed to phase out CFCs and replace them with gases that were less damaging to ozone. While the Montreal deal is working—the ozone hole is showing signs of healing—there was a big side-effect: the contribution to global warming from HFCs.

Why is it important to control them?

As air conditioners and fridges wear out over time, or are improperly disposed of, HFCs can leak into the atmosphere. Once there, they trap heat much more effectively than carbon dioxide, even though they don’t last as long. Experts say that bringing them under control is one of the most cost effective ways to control global warming in the next few decades.

While some HFCs only remain in the atmosphere for a few years to decades, others can last a few centuries. Emissions from HFCs are currently on the rise, growing about 10 percent a year as developing countries, in particular, gain access to air conditioning and refrigeration. If these emissions grow unchecked, scientists have warned that they could contribute to 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100.

The Ozone Secretariat organizes these meetings. About the Ozone Secretariat from UNEP’s website:

The Ozone Secretariat is the Secretariat for the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and for the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Based at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) offices in Nairobi, Kenya, the Secretariat functions in accordance with Article 7 of the Vienna Convention and Article 12 of the Montreal Protocol.

The main duties of the Secretariat include:

  • Arranging for and servicing the Conferences of the Parties to the Vienna Convention, Meetings of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, related Working Groups and Committees, the Bureaux, and the Assessment Panels;

  • arranging for the implementation of decisions resulting from these meetings;

  • monitoring the implementation of the Convention and the Protocol and reporting to the meetings of the Parties and to the Implementation Committee of the Montreal Protocol’s ;

  • representing the Convention and the Protocol in relevant international and regional meetings;

  • receiving, analyzing, and providing to the Parties data and information from the Parties on the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances (ODSs); and

  • providing information to governments, international organizations and individuals on various aspects of the protection of the ozone layer.