The Montreal Protocol


The Montreal Protocol was agreed in 1987 with a pressing mission to regulate the chemicals directly destroying Earth’s ozone layer and is celebrated as the world’s most successful environmental treaty. We were instrumental in proposing and then making the case that the Protocol, which so ably removed chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), was the best mechanism by which to phase out the harmful hydrofluorocarbons which have come to replace CFCs. This work resulted in the Kigali Amendment on HFCs which came into force in January 2019.

The problem

All life on Earth is dependent on the ozone layer, a thin stratum of gas in the upper atmosphere which shields the planet’s surface from about 99 per cent of harmful solar ultraviolet radiation.

The Montreal Protocol was created in 1987 to regulate the chemicals responsible for ozone depletion, principally chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Widely hailed as the world’s most successful environmental treaty, the Montreal Protocol has phased out 99 per cent of all Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), setting the ozone layer on the path to recovery. It was also the first UN treaty to achieve universal ratification – truly a global agreement.

Our initial involvement with the Protocol was to expose the scale of illegal trade in CFCs, which represented 20 per cent of global CFC trade by the late 1990s, and to push for improved enforcement and licensing requirements.

While continuing to monitor and expose ODS illegal trade, we have also focused on the climate impact of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have been introduced as replacement chemicals for ODS and are the fastest-growing group of greenhouse gases.

The difference we’ve made

We were one of the first groups to advocate a phase-down of HFCs under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol.

Although HFCs were included in the basket of greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), their use and emissions were rising dramatically.

In 2008, we attended the annual meeting of the Montreal Protocol, in Qatar, and raised the notion of amending the treaty to enable it to tackle HFCs. From that time onwards until a deal was sealed in Kigali in 2016, we have worked tirelessly to convince the global community of the need for action to tackle the alarming rise in HFC emissions.

Over the nine years, our campaigners participated in every single Montreal Protocol meeting to advocate an HFC amendment, engaging with governments all over the world, producing more than 45 technical, policy and scientific reports and briefings, exposing the flaws in the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism, campaigning to enact supportive regional HFC legislation and persuading major HFC end-users to switch to alternatives, proving the business case for a global shift away from HFCs.

In October 2016, Parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed the historic Kigali Amendment, which will cut global HFC production and use starting in 2019, avoiding an estimated 70 billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions and almost half a degree of warming by the end of the century.

Our commitment and contribution to the progress and achievements of the Montreal Protocol has been recognised through two UN Ozone Awards, most recently in November 2017 at the 30th anniversary of the treaty.

The Montreal Protocol

Indonesia CFC Seizure Inspection © EIAimage

Moving forward

The Kigali Amendment came into force in 2019 and we are working to ensure global ratification and implementation.

This involves building a sound framework for implementation that will enable a swift transition to energy-efficient, climate-friendly technologies, primarily in the cooling sector.

The Montreal Protocol works on the basis of differentiated phase-out timelines for developed and developing countries. Developing countries are still in the process of phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs), ODS introduced as temporary alternatives to CFCs. This presents an additional opportunity to avoid HFC use and emissions altogether by leapfrogging directly to climate-friendly technologies, such as natural refrigerants.

We are engaging with the Multilateral Fund, the Montreal Protocol’s dedicated financial instrument, to encourage guidelines that will create a sustainable financial framework that assists developing countries to transition to energy-efficient HFC-free technologies. We are also working to remove barriers to the adoption of efficient and sustainable cooling technologies, such as outdated industry standards which currently prevent the safe use of flammable refrigerants.

At the same time, and despite its track record of success, there remain a number of challenges to effective implementation of the Kigali Amendment and controls on ODS. These include the recovery and destruction of banks of unwanted HFCs and ODS, the illegal trade of HCFCs and HFCs, which will become increasingly prevalent as supplies of these chemicals are cut over time, and the need to address energy efficiency through the refrigerant transition. We are working to encourage Parties to the Montreal Protocol to build on their commitments, translating words into action on the ground.

How you can help

Only a few NGOs participate in the Montreal Protocol, despite its importance in the battle against climate change. Your gift today will help us continue our vital investigative and campaigning work.

Header image © NASA