The ’Kigali Amendment’ agreed this weekend to control HFC gases thousands of times more powerful than CO2 is the first major step in delivering the goals of the Paris agreement, writes Nigel Paul - and a second huge success for the Montreal Protocol, originally agreed to save the ozone layer from destruction by CFCs.
Early Saturday morning, 06.54 local time according to my laptop, the gavel fell to pass the Kigali amendment of the Montreal Protocol.
The amendment came at the end of a marathon overnight session of the meeting of the Parties of the Protocol, the final chapter in a week of intense negotiations in Kigali. More than that, the amendment emerges from discussions about controlling HFCs that stretch back seven years.
That may seem like slow process but we got there and delivered what has been described by US Secretary of State John Kerry as the "single most important unitary step that we could possibly take at this moment to stave off the worst impacts of climate change".
That the Montreal Protocol delivered this vital amendment shouldn’t come as any surprise. It is the climate negotiations that attract media and public attention, culminating in the wall-to-wall coverage of last year’s Paris Climate Summit.
The media were much less visible in Kigali this week, but when it comes to the changes the World needs it is the Montreal Protocol that always delivers! Going back three decades, the Montreal Protocol has protected us all from the disastrous effects of uncontrolled ozone depletion on human health and the environment.
Forget the Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Protocol is delivering on climate!
What is less well-known is that the Montreal Protocol is also the most successful global protocol in protecting the climate. It is estimated to have delivered about five times the climate benefit than the target set by the Kyoto Protocol for 2008-2012.
And, of course, last year’s Paris agreement defined aspirations for protecting the climate, but did not establish the specific routes by which that protection would actually be delivered. Again, step up the Montreal Protocol, and the Kigali amendment.
Ok, I have to concede I am not impartial here. In my role as co-chair of the Montreal Protocol’s Environmental Effects Assessment Panel I am honoured to be a small cog in the Montreal process. My role focusses on aspects of the science behind the Protocol, not the in-depth policy negotiations of this week. So I watched the Kigali negotiations from within the room, but at enough distance to see it with a degree of objectivity.
The first thing that struck me was that the systems and community that Montreal has built over 30 years was the bedrock for the Kigali amendment. The approaches that will be used to control HFCs are based closely on those that the Protocol has used so successfully to control ozone-damaging CFCs. The spirit of mutual understanding across very different nations, again developed over decades, was also clear.
Of course there were tensions and tough negotiations. And of course the amendment has different time-scales for the reduction of HFCs in developed and developing countries. Yet the key message is that all 197 Parties of the protocol have worked together to build the consensus on which the Kigali amendment is founded, just as they have worked together over the three decades.
But beyond the systems success relies on people, and it will be the people above all that I will remember from this week. Its easy to focus on the headline acts. John Kerry was inspirational on Friday morning. But it was those doing the hard-miles of getting the work done, the unsung heroes of a success like Kigali, that impressed most.
’They kept delivering at the highest level until the amendment was done’
The detailed discussions of the HFC amendment were led by Xia Yingxian from China, and Patrick McInerney from Australia. I will remember McInerney when the final session started at 01.00 Saturday morning. He sounded so exhausted that he could barely speak, yet over three hours he took the meeting through the whole text, reading it out line-by-line and handling any discussion that came back from the floor.
I will remember the delegate from the UK who led writing the amendment in the necessary legal language. I still don’t know his name - contributions from the floor are only ever named by their country - but through the small hours, when I was struggling to read ABC, he navigated the delegates not just through the language but through the labyrinthine structures of the whole Protocol.
I will remember the sheer hollow-eyed exhaustion in the faces of senior members of national delegations and of the Ozone Secretariat, the UN team that makes it all happen. Yet they kept delivering at the highest level until the amendment was done.
I guess I am supposed to be objective and scientific, but I can’t do that today. The Kigali amendment is an historic step in protecting the environments we all depend on and improving all our lives, now and far into the future.
For me that includes my son, who will live with the consequences of climate change for the rest of the Century. He will see the real benefits of what was done in Kigali this week. I was proud to be there to witness what was achieved.
So biased or not, I propose a resounding three cheers for Montreal - the global environmental protocol that always delivers!