More: Watch live webcasts from the U.S. Center at COP-16.
About the Author: Sarah Goldfarb serves as DipNote's Associate Editor. Sarah will be providing information from presentations about key climate programs and scientific research at the U.S. Center at the 16th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-16) in Cancun, Mexico, from November 29 through December 10, 2010.
Advances in air conditioning and refrigeration have improved our lives, but their uses have also resulted in substantial climate impacts. At the U.S. Center on December 9, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explored how the United States, Canada, and Mexico are dealing with the growth in use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). John Thompson of the U.S. Department of State moderated a panel featuring Cindy Newberg of the EPA, Michael Enns of Environment Canada, and Agustin Sanchez and Ana Maria Contreras of Semarnat.
While the Montreal Protocol, a treaty involving 196 countries that works to end the production of ozone-depleting substances, has effectively ended the production of several ozone-depleting substances, like chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), the Protocol has not controlled HFCs. According to the EPA, during the phaseout of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) under the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act, manufacturers of equipment, such as automobile air conditioners and kitchen refrigerators, substituted HFCs for CFCs. Reducing HFCs would help slow climate change and curb potential public health impacts.
Thompson said that in the United States, the amount of HFCs emitted is comparatively small, but these emissions have high global warming potentials, and therefore have significant impacts on human health. Furthermore, the global amount of HFCs is increasing due to the growth and demand for air conditioning and refrigeration in developing countries.
The EPA evaluates substitute chemicals and technologies for ozone-depleting substances that reduce the overall risk to human health and environment through the Significant New Alternatives Program (SNAP). SNAP reviews ozone depletion potentials (ODP) and global warming potentials (GWP); flammability; toxicity; contributions to smog; aquatic and ecosystem effects; and the occupational health and safety.
Newberg highlighted available alternatives and additional substitutes that are under development. She said that various factors influence the speed of transition, including domestic and regional requirements; the availability of alternatives; advanced design options that reduce charge side; and the global expansion of air conditioning and refrigeration.
Sanchez said the United States, Canada, and Mexico are proposing a trilateral amendment to expand the scope of the Montreal Protocol to address the production and consumption of HFCs. At the 22nd Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, 91 of the 136 countries signed declaration agreeing to address HFC consumption under the Montreal Protocol. Under the Protocol, consensus is required, but Newberg is optimistic about the future. “We're hopeful we can rely on the Montreal Protocol to make this transition possible."Become a fan of the Bureau of Oceans, Environment, and Science on Facebook and follow all of the action at COP-16. You can find press releases, program events, transcripts, presentations from the U.S. Center and more on state.gov/cop16.