It was a blast from the past when on Saturday my 10-month-old daughter pulled out a binder (yes, one of those things Romney talked about…) that had a red "ozone devil" on it (see picture). Back in the mid-1980s, sticking these "devils" on spray cans powered by ozone layer destroying "f-gases" - CFCs - was one of the first ever Greenpeace activities I engaged in. Then, the hole in the ozone layer was still new and big news.
It amuses me now to think how daring it felt at 14 to be walking into supermarkets and – by spreading these stickers – warn consumers about the disastrous impact of their product choice. I know my parents were a tad nervous about it. And I wonder what will be the issue my daughter cares about when she is 14? Certainly not HCFCs, gladly, as these will be history in the developed world by then.
25 years ago, in 1987, the Montreal Protocol to protect the Ozone layer was agreed. It is a remarkable agreement. After NASA confirmed the dire state of the ozone layer, the Protocol was negotiated at amazing speed. It has some real teeth and has had an impact many global environmental agreements can only dream of. This success is not complete though. And, sadly, it seems to have created a – false – belief that the ozone layer is a problem that is already solved.
Far from it. It will take until 2050 for the ozone hole to make a partial recovery and it will never return to its pre-industrial state. And when HCFCs and CFCs get replaced with HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons), their replacement is fuelling another major environmental problem: climate change. HFCs are toxic chemicals and are extremely potent greenhouse gases. They are up to several thousand times more powerful than CO2, the main climate-damaging gas everybody talks about. Shockingly, at their current rate of growth (mainly in refrigeration and air conditioning), HFCs could have the same climate impact as up to a third of total carbon emissions by 2050.
So as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol, governments have their work cut out for them. The Montreal Protocol could have achieved much more to protect the ozone layer and the climate had it forced the world to take the direct leap to ozone-friendly natural refrigerants. Instead, since its inception the Protocol has been overly influenced by the likes of Honeywell and Dupont, companies that have successfully lobbied for the widespread adoption of HCFCs and HFCs.
Natural refrigerants need to become the world's choice if we are to truly get rid of these fluorinated devils. We at Greenpeace developed and successfully commercialized the truly clean 'Greenfreeze' hydrocarbon technology in domestic refrigeration in the 1990s. Greenfreeze technology is now being used in 650 million fridges around the world. And other sectors have successfully followed the natural refrigerants path. Indeed, as we show in our new Cool Technologies report sustainable long-term solutions are available and feasible for most applications. We can do without HFCs as well.
At the 25 years mark, therefore, the Montreal Protocol must not rest on its laurels. Instead, it must urgently decide to eliminate all HFCs by 2020 (working together with the climate convention, the UNFCCC). To continue the fight against the ozone devils my colleagues, Ozone hero Janos Mate and Paula Tejon, are at the Montreal Protocol meeting in Geneva this week. As I was trying to prevent my daughter from chewing on the ozone devil binder this weekend – facing fierce resistance – I was thinking of them. I was thinking about how grateful I am to have colleagues giving their all for my daughter's future.
Daniel Mittler is the Political Director of Greenpeace International