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Climate change campaigners hail international deal to phase out fridge gases

Published 15/10/2016

Air conditioners use hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs - greenhouse gases far more powerful than carbon dioxide (AP)
Air conditioners use hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs - greenhouse gases far more powerful than carbon dioxide (AP)

An international deal has been struck to cut powerful greenhouse gases used in fridges and air conditioning.

The move to amend the Montreal Protocol - which agreed the global phasing-out of chemicals that damage the ozone layer - to include climate-harming gases known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs has been hailed by campaigners.

HFCs have been used to replace the ozone-damaging chemicals in refrigeration and air conditioning but are very powerful greenhouse gases which trap thousands of times more heat than carbon dioxide.

They are also the fastest growing greenhouse gas, with emissions increasing by up to 10% each year, the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) said.

Under the deal, developed countries will start to phase down HFC use by 2019, while developing countries will freeze consumption levels in 2024 or for some countries in 2028.

By the late 2040s all countries are expected to consume no more than 15%-20% of their baseline levels, in a move that it is hoped will prevent up to 0.5C of global warming by the end of the century.

The deal, agreed by almost 200 countries meeting in Rwanda, is the third major agreement struck on tackling climate change in the past year.

Last December, the world's first comprehensive treaty on climate change, the Paris Agreement, was struck in the French capital.

The deal, which comes into force next month, commits countries to keep global temperature rises to "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to keep rises to no more than 1.5C.

Earlier this month, a deal was agreed to curb the growing emissions from international flights.

UN environment chief Erik Solheim said: "Last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise.

"This is about much more than the ozone layer and HFCs.

"It is a clear statement by all world leaders that the green transformation started in Paris is irreversible and unstoppable. It shows the best investments are those in clean, efficient technologies."

Mike Childs, head of policy at Friends of the Earth said: "This is a very welcome step forward, and another important sign that the international community is at last getting serious on climate change.

"Governments should not only meet these new targets, but use ingenuity and innovation to rapidly reduce the costs of HFC alternatives in order to rid the world of these powerful greenhouse gases even sooner."

He added that HFCs were only a "small part" of climate change, and that carbon dioxide - particularly from burning fossil fuels - was a much bigger threat.

He called on the UK Government to refuse Heathrow expansion, stop fracking and boost renewables.

Christian Aid's senior policy adviser, Benson Ireri, said: "This was the first real test faced by nations since they committed to limiting global warming in the Paris Agreement.

"It is good to see they have passed that test. Despite some long negotiations, they have shown the global transition to a sustainable planet remains on course.

"HFCs posed an immediate threat to a safe climate due to their increasing use and high global warming potential - thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"By agreeing to an early HFC phasedown schedule, we've bought ourselves a bit more time to shift to a global low-carbon economy and protect the world's most vulnerable people."

As the world got hotter, there would be more use of air conditioners and refrigerators and it was essential that cooling devices did not make the climate problem worse and turn it into a vicious cycle, he added.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: "The UK has already pledged to phase down use of HFCs by 80% by 2030 and today's historic agreement means the rest of the world will be following our lead, after UK negotiators worked through the night at UN talks in Rwanda to achieve the deal.

"The deal will avoid 0.5C of global warming by the end of this century. That makes it possibly the biggest single step the world will take to meet the goal of the Paris climate deal to limit temperature increases to well below 2C."

Press Association

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