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Major agreement reached to phase down greenhouse gases

An amendment to the Montreal Protocol which phases down the use of harmful greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning is being welcomed by Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith.

“New Zealand advocated for an ambitious change to the Montreal Protocol at the meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, this week. The resulting amendment will have significant environmental benefits by phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs),” Dr Smith says.

HFCs can have a global warming effect up to 15,000 times greater than carbon dioxide.

“Once implemented, the agreed phase down will avoid significant global warming of potentially up to 0.5degC, and that is a significant step towards meeting the objectives of the Paris agreement, which comes into force on 4 November.”

The Paris agreement, ratified by New Zealand earlier in October, aims to keep global temperature rise this century below 2degC and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5degC above pre-industrial levels.

“The Kigali amendment, seven years in the making, is an historic achievement and adds to the status of the Montreal Protocol as perhaps the most successful environmental agreement ever,” Dr Smith says.

The Montreal Protocol was agreed in 1987 and originally targeted the phase out of chlorofluorocarbons, to protect the Earth’s ozone layer, but now also includes HFCs. Scientists estimate the ozone hole would be 40 per cent larger without the agreement.

Under the amendment, developing and developed countries will need to phase down HFCs, although in different timeframes.

For New Zealand, this will mean an 85 per cent phase down of HFCs by 2036, once the amendment is ratified. The first step of the phase down will happen in 2019, with a reduction of 10 per cent compared to 2011-2013 levels.

“The Ministry for the Environment will work closely with industry in New Zealand to implement the phase down over the next 20 years,” Dr Smith says.

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