Table Of Contents

    Executive Summary

    In the context of international environmental treaties, the Montreal Protocol has seen unparalleled success. Ratified by almost every country in the world, and with both the developed and developing world broadly achieving their production phase-out targets for ozone depleting substances (ODSs), the agreement is on track to significantly reduce a major environmental and health threat. Stratospheric ozone is expected to revert to pre-1980s levels during the second half of this century, achieving the primary goal of the protocol. Yet the agreement failed to directly address another threat associated with these emissions: global warming. Both existing ODSs and their industry substitutes, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), have severe global warming potential (GWP) -- in some cases more than 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted by human activities. While focusing on the global phase-out of ODS production, the treaty has done little to address existing banks of ODSs or incentivize their controlled destruction. The next 20 years will be crucial in determining the ultimate impact of ODSs on the atmosphere. If ODS banks remain unaddressed, there is a considerable risk that these chemicals will be released into the atmosphere within this timeframe, with significant implications for global warming and ozone depletion. Only if these gases are collected and destroyed or recycled in a controlled, responsible manner can an environmental threat be considered to have been averted. The treaty also has been instrumental in accelerating the growth of HFC production because they have no ozone-depleting potential and can be used in almost all the same functions in industry. The industry is only now completing a transfer from second generation ODSs to HFCs, and so their atmospheric prevalence continues to rise rapidly. The GWP of HFC emissions, by mass, surpasses that of CO2 by a factor of between 100 and 12,500, and a collaborative 2009 study reported that HFC emissions could account for 9 to 19 percent of projected global CO2-equivalent emissions by 2050 under the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario (Velders et al, 2009). Climate change presents a growing threat to health, the environment, and national security. Emissions from ODSs and HFCs threaten to undermine efforts being taken to reduce atmospheric CO2. Consequently, there is increasing pressure for federal, international, or other climate legislation to address the threats posed by existing banks of ODSs and the growing production of HFCs.

     

    Download the full issue brief in PDF format.