Sometimes a solution can be worse than the problem it solves. And then begins another struggle to get rid of the solution gone bad. Back in 1987, the world community adopted the Montreal Protocol to urgently save the Earth’s ozone layer. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were much in the news then, a class of chemicals used in air conditioners, refrigerators and aerosol sprays. Studies had revealed that CFCs let loose flew up high in the atmosphere to attack ozone molecules, punching holes in the ozone layer. Since the ozone layer functioned like a giant sun screen to protect Earthlings from harmful ultraviolet rays, CFCs soon became a major villain of the pollution story. By 1992, CFCs were banned worldwide; their place was taken by a new class of chemicals, the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Within a few years, the ozone layer repaired itself and the Montreal Protocol was touted as a hugely successful cooperative effort. But before long, HFCs began to reveal a highly undesirable character; they turned out to be 15,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat from sunlight. Soon these chemicals were dubbed ‘super greenhouse gases’ posing a big threat to a rapidly warming Earth. It sent the world community back to the drawing board and upgrade the Montreal Protocol to now abolish the HFCs. Thankfully, after seven years of hard negotiations, a deal was struck in Kigali last Saturday by almost 200 countries. Under the 3-tier agreement, developed tions will begin to phase down HFCs by 2019, one group of developing tions including Chi, Brazil and South Africa by 2024, and the remaining group of developing tions including India, Pakistan and Iran by 2028. India and other developing tions bargained hard for a later deadline and fincing by developed tions for making the transition, and in the end did mage to extract a mostly fair deal.
The exact amount of funding, expected to be in the billions globally, is scheduled to be fixed in Montreal next year, but promises are likely to be kept as was done under the origil Montreal Protocol. This will set off a hunt for altertives to HFCs that are safer for climate, use less energy and are affordable. It will require massive grants to research institutes and governments sending strong sigls to the private sector. Once the use of HFCs is frozen under the amended Montreal Protocol, it is expected on its own to avoid global temperature increase by 0.5 degrees Celsius. This in turn would be a major contribution to the world community’s efforts to cap overall global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 — under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement covering other greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide. The world community is presently celebrating the voluntary Paris deal, which has garnered far more support than the threshold 55 percent greenhouse gas emitter countries. With major carbon dioxide emitters US, Chi, European Union and India all aboard and pushing the deal, it will formally go into effect from November 4 this year. Compare this to the earlier UN climate deal, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which took eight years to take effect. In the end, that deal failed because it put the onus on developed tions to cut emissions — with an incensed US, the world’s biggest emitter, staying out of it. Since then, an inexorably warming Earth setting off extreme weather phenome has brought the US round and sent the EU, Chi, Japan, India and other tions scrambling to really do something before it is too late. Ever frequent super storms, disastrous floods and draughts, severe winters and burning summers have all combined to drive home a worldwide realization to move away from a fossil fuel-based economy and adopt sustaible development lifestyles. Still, with the current year well on course to beat the temperature records set last year, it is doubtful whether tiol pledges to cut emissions under the Paris deal will be enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees by the end of 21st century. The average global temperature is already up by 0.87 degrees, which means that tions will have to sprint harder to make the Paris deal more binding and effective, as well as turn the proposed Global Climate Fund into a reality to fince appropriate green technology. The can-do spirit displayed in drawing up the legally binding Kigali deal is surely the way to go.