OEWG 45 of the Montreal Protocol in Bangkok.

Since its inception in 1988, The Montreal protocol has sought to protect the ozone layer from increased damage within the stratosphere by the eventual phasing out of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), replacing them with environmentally friendly and safe alternatives. Their Scientific Assessment Panel (SAP) hopes that with the protocol’s intervention that a near perfect recovery of the ozone layer could and should be expected before the year 2100. A benefit of this effect would be the prophylactic treatment of future skin cancers and their associated deaths, as well as the of potential cataracts cases. The Montreal Protocol was further advanced in 2016 with its adoption of the Kigali Amendment, with the intention of decreased manufacturing and usage of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) around the globe, which carry high global warming potential (GWP). 

“The Montreal protocol is a model of cooperation. It is a product of the recognition and international consensus that ozone depletion is a global problem, both in terms of its causes and its effects. The protocol is the result of an extraordinary process of scientific study, negotiations among representatives of the business and environmental communities, and international diplomacy. It is a monumental achievement.” – President Ronald Reagan, 1988

As a method of its implementation and ratification, meetings conducted by the Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) are organized to bring together UN members and collected data sets from scientists as a method to strengthen the effects of the Montreal protocol. Starting from the 3rd of July going until the 7th of the same week, the 45th meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol (OEWG45) converged in Bangkok, Thailand. Some topics of interest discussed during this multiple day workshop included an ozone assessment depletion model, funding requirements for replenishing the Multilateral Fund (MLF) for the upcoming years 2024-2026, and atmospheric monitoring of global and regional substances under control of the Montreal protocol. OEWG meets to answer questions and concerns and create a unified response to newly collected data. The Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MOP) will meet later this year to vote on any additions made to the Kigali Amendment and Montreal Protocol, as OEWG will lay its foundations for new decisions. On each day of OEWG45, 2 plenary sessions were held.

The first plenary session conducted was the 2022 World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) scientific assessment of ozone depletion and its highlights. Several key findings were established in the assessment, such as the total emissions of ODS continue to decrease in the environment outside of isolated incidents that could possibly be explained by feedstock leaks or chemical reaction by-products. Atmospheric chlorine (11% decrease of total ODS variation from 1993-2020) and bromine (15% decrease from 1999-2020) levels also continue to recede. Chlorine in the atmosphere can destabilize the bonds between oxygen atoms in an ozone molecule and cause further destruction of the ozone layer, which means a decreased chlorine output will help stabilize the ozone layer. Further findings also showed that implementation of the Kigali Amendment greatly diminished growing emissions from HFCs and prevention of nearly half a degree of warming by 2100 is entirely plausible. CFC-11 emissions worldwide have also been on the decline based on information collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) after 2018. Previously collected CFC-11 emission data had shown a marked increase after the cessation of its production, which could possibly be accounted for by unexpected emissions.

The ozone hole over the Antarctic is also showing increased signs of recovery. There is some variation during recorded measurements, but an overall increased thickness being measured via Dobson Units can be noticed. The variation in measurements occurs because of the area, strength, and longevity of each measurement. The amount of ozone present in the upper stratosphere is also continuing to increase volume, although these findings do not seem to be the same in the lower stratosphere. The greatest yield of recovery is approximately 2% per decade at roughly an altitude of 40 km, and full restoration of the ozone hole is expected by 2066 under current ODS regulation. Recovery of the Arctic region is expected by 2045 along its current trajectory. However, in the mid and lower levels of the stratosphere, much of the recovery that is present in generated models is not noticed during satellite observation. 

Some other notable key points of the first plenary session were a delayed decrease of atmospheric carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), possibly from underestimated emissions. The atmospheric levels of methyl bromide (CH3Br) remained consistent between 6.5-6.9 parts per trillion during the recorded span of 2016-2020, although most man-made sources except for when used in certain fumigation processes have been entirely phased out, meaning these levels can be mostly attributable to natural sources. HFC-23 emissions have increased since a previous assessment in 2018, as well as levels of Dichloromethane (CH2Cl2), although CH2Cl2 overall growth rate has decreased. The presence of some other potent greenhouse gases has also risen, including highly fluorinated substances such as SF8, perfluorocarbons, SO2F2, and NF3.

The second plenary session was the highlight from the 2022 WMO/UNEP scientific assessment of ozone depletion. The meeting constituted a review of much of the information covered during the first plenary session. Some new information was provided, such as possible data collection impediment due to the retirement of satellites equipped with measuring tools within the next few years. The eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunha Ha’apai volcano was also discussed, as the volcanic plumes ascended to approximately 58 km in the stratosphere. This interruption into the stratospheric layer increased the water burden by 10%, allowing for both water and aerosol moleculesto travel into the Antarctic vortex which could possibly halt recovery of the ozone hole later this year.

The third plenary session occurring the second day was the Quadrennial assessment 2022: Environmental Effects Assessment Panel (EEAP), made to monitor the environmental effects of ozone depletion, UV radiation, and their interactions with the climate system. One aspect of environmental changes is those made by UV-B radiation. Outside of the polar regions, the UV index is partially controlled by cloud cover, aerosols and surface reflectivity when covered by snow or ice. On the poles, the UV radiation passes through the ozone hole and causes increased melting. The ultraviolet index measured at the Palmer station in Antarctica of pre- and post-ozone hole during the spring months showed an average increase from 5-6 during May-June during the 1970s up to 11-14 during the 1990s measured along the UVI.

Along the poles, this causes increased exposure of ecosystems to UV radiation under areas of melting, but as the UVI increases moving closer to the equator, the risk of cancerous lesions and other disease processes also increases. As the Montreal Protocol has succeeded in preventing growth of the Antarctic ozone hole and phased out the use of many known GHGs, adverse health conditions such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma have been avoided by millions of people. Other ocular conditions that have been averted by use of the Montreal Protocol are pterygium (benign growths), photokeratitis (corneal inflammation), photo conjunctivitis (conjunctival inflammation of the eye), pinguecula (benign conjunctival growth), decreased risk of cataracts to the lens, and lowered instances of intra-ocular melanoma, macular degeneration (decreased visual ability) and glaucoma.

Further findings from the Quadrennial assessment also show that solar radiation causes or worsens inflammatory skin diseases, worsening quality of life. An increase in UV radiation also changes air quality when reacting with anthropogenically produced chemicals. The radiation can change volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM) into toxic compounds. Increased air pollution can cause certain cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer, neonatal complications, and endocrine system effects. It should also be noted that UV radiation, while still causing these disease processes, also removes many pollutants from the air including carbon monoxide, methane, HFCs, HCFCs, and HFOs.

Some concern was also raised over Trifluoracetic acid (TFA) accumulation, terrestrial ecosystems under exposure to varying UV radiation and the possible consequences to the food supply and security network, adverse climate event frequency and shifting biodiversity. Invasive species can migrate to new habitats that were previously uninhabitable as the ecosystem undergoes changes. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has reported a loss in agricultural production of nearly US $300 000 000 000 because of invasive insects and other plant pests. UV exposure also increases the speed at which plant matter degenerates after dying, which increases the level of atmospheric GHGs as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are released. Aquatic ecosystems are also undergoing changes as Dissolved organic matter (DOM) is broken down by solar radiation, releasing more carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane.

Solar radiation can also alter the appearance and service life of many synthetic materials that we produce. UV-stabilizers are now commonly added in many products to increase their life span and prevent further breakdown. A byproduct of this effect has been the increased cost of materials to the average consumer. Solar radiation can also breakdown many of the plastic parts present in solar panels. The plastics present here and in other settings after breakdown can become micro- and nano-plastic particles. The full effect of micro-plastics to humans has not been fully established, but there are many associated negative impacts.

The fourth plenary session was the Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) 2019-2022 Quadrennial Assessment Report. The TEAP report attempts to replace ODS and high GWP substances with more efficient and safer alternatives while remaining as economically feasible as possible. The panel assessed Flexible and Rigid Foams (FTOC), Fire Suppression (FSTOC), Methyl Bromide (MBTOC), Medical and Chemicals (MCTOC), and Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heat Pumps Technical Options (RTOC). Each was managed by a Technical Options Committee. 

The RTOC delivered several key messages during the plenary session. Much of the HFC phase out is focused on the production of direct GHGs, but indirect emissions can be drastically lowered through equipment that is more energy efficient, modernizing and using high-performance buildings, and a lowered carbon intensive electrical grid. The RTOC also states that there is currently no perfect refrigerant replacement, and consumers must use their own discretion to determine the proper refrigerant for their scenario based on availability, cost, accessible equipment, energy efficiency rating and safety. Current and proposed PFAS regulations are still quite open, although it is expected that some HFO and HFCs will be affected later. Some of the existing alternatives being used still carry with them a high GWP, so it is speculated that their usage will remain temporary during the HFC phase out process.

For the year 2022, approximately 2 billion domestic refrigerators were in use around the globe. Within the commercial sector, existing systems are constantly being updated to use low and medium GWP refrigerants while newly created systems are made for ultra-low and low GWP substances, and current production has shifted to mass produce mostly HC-600a. For the growth of the cold chain, it is imperative to maintain and improve the energy efficiency of involved systems, one aspect of this being logistics. Most fleets of refrigerated trucks and trailers use high GWP refrigerants, but some newly introduced models in Europe and across North America now use the refrigerant R-452A, lower than the more commonly used R-404A. Within Air conditioning equipment, HFC-32 is being replaced with medium GWP HFC/HFO blends, although the greatest task is being experienced with larger systems and moving them over to medium and low GWP substances. The current market is now offering chillers that function off low GWP refrigerants. 

The fifth plenary session was the Assessment of the Funding Requirement for the Replenishment of the Multilateral Fund (MLF) for the period 2024-2026. Its purpose was to determine the appropriate replacement of the MLF for 2024-2026. The 2024-2026 Triennium for the MLF is significant in that much of the funding is for HCFC phase-out and HFC phase-down. The current reduction target for HCFCs during this period is 67.5%, with 100% phase-out expected by January 2030. A portion of the HCFC funding is approved for Hydrofluorocarbon Phaseout Management Plans (HPMPs), of which US $116 700 000 will be allocated for, although total funding available for estimated HPMPs will be approximately US $205 400 000 during 2024-2026. HFC phase-down is split into 2 groups, where group 2 parties will have a delayed freeze period in comparison to group 1. Group 1 is made of Article 5 parties with nearly 150 countries in total. Their HFC freeze will begin in 2024, and a 10% baseline reduction will be expected by January 2029. Group 2 includes countries such as India, Iran, and Iraq. Its freeze will begin in 2028, and a 10% baseline reduction is expected by January 2032. 

As part of the HFC phasedown, Kigali HFC Implementation Plans (KIPs) are being developed to help aid in HFC reduction across different group 1 and group 2 countries. Group 1 and group 2 countries are further divided into brackets based on their HCFC consumption. Bracket A is the highest for consumption with anything more than 25 001 metric tons, extending through brackets B (10 001-25 000 metric tons), C (2 001-10 000 metric tons), D (up to 2 000 metric tons, non-LVC and E, which includes all Low Volume Consumer (VLCs) countries. Low-end and high-end estimates exist for funding amounts available for KIPs, starting at US $405 800 000 and go up to US $449 400 000. A further US $20 000 000 was also made available for new energy-efficient projects. The estimate for the entirety of the 2024-2026 triennium ranges from US $974 573 000 up to $1 018 224 000.

The sixth plenary session was the identification of gaps in the global coverage of atmospheric monitoring of controlled substances and options for enhancing monitoring, organized by TEAP. This session included data from the assessment of chemical pathways which created significant emissions, best practices to be used for control, and understanding emission sources. Many gaps in the understanding of emission releases are due in part to publicly available data or the lack thereof, which may be the case when trying to keep commercial confidentiality. This means that the full capacity and production by chemical pathways cannot be precisely understood. The emission sources are hypothesized to be reasonably accurate, but they will be subject to change as time goes on.

The seventh plenary session was the Energy efficiency working group report as supplement to the TEAP 2023 progress report. With improvement in energy efficient systems comes lowered consumer costs, but there are also other benefits to be made when making systems more energy efficient. In Article 5 countries, low efficiency cold chains with poor integration also further food loss, with up to US $400 000 000 000 being lost annually due to improper storage. With an improvement in energy efficiency, it can become possible to refrigerate more perishable goods in developing countries, which would also help to reduce many foodborne illnesses. Beyond food, vaccines could also maintain a longer shelf when kept chilled. With improved shelf life, vaccines would need to be wasted at a much lower frequency, as current wasting exists at about 25%. A portion of energy efficiency can be achieved by updating our current building infrastructure to make it more efficient. Factors that can be considered include roof and wall insulation, window type, window-to-wall ratio, heating, lighting, and cooling equipment used.

One of the issues to be solved for energy efficient (EE) technology is attempting to secure access in countries that do not generally produce EE technology. While ease of access exists in countries that manufacture such systems, this does not mean that these options are available cheaply to the countries to which EE technologies are imported to. Production volume is also another factor to consider, as the economical strategy that is potentially used by each company can be decided by choosing to buy EE system components or creating a sector within the company to generate such parts to be used for the finished product. In this situation, a cost-vs-benefit analysis would be needed to determine potential profits or capital saved. To improve the adoptability of EE equipment, one method would be to equip technicians with knowledge and certification in newer EE systems that are being produced on the market. This would benefit technicians through improved safety practices and a wider range of options to be used while managing different projects.

Another issue that was approached during the plenary session was testing equipment and procedures. Test methods must constantly be updated as new products and technologies are launched, to ensure that new products meet performance requirements. However, testing products is known to be both a high consumer of resources and time. A way to save on the cost of testing could involve accumulating resources with other nearby countries to share in a testing facility. Another possibility could also be to look at facilities within the private sector or laboratory facilities existing in practical universities. There are also other obstructions that exist for the adaptation of EE technologies, especially in underdeveloped countries. Some methods of adaptation in these areas may include reducing investment risks by providing rebates and other financial incentives, upgrading current or developing new training materials and providing education on commercially available technologies.

It is expected that near exponential growth will occur in the refrigeration, air conditioning, and heat pump (RACHP) sector over the next several decades. Current scenarios expect a cooling capacity growth that is approximately three-fold, a high percentage of which is dictated by the increased wealth of warm and hot regions. As this growth occurs, a use in energy will most likely follow the same trajectory, increasing energy costs, power generation investments, and global emissions if EE systems are not adapted along the same growth pathway. Investments into RACHP EE has the potential to save up to US $3 000 000 000 000 by mitigating global power requirements by 1-1.5 terawatts and preventing the creation of over a thousand power stations capable of each generating 1 000 megawatts. To give some perspective, an output of 1 terawatt for a full hour is enough to cool half a million homes for a full year.

The eighth plenary session focused on potential impacts of Covid on HFC consumption for Article 5 Group 1 parties. Concern was raised over whether Covid had adjusted the usage of HFC substances during the triennial period of 2020-2022, with reasoning being that potential consumption during the period could impact the consumption freeze scheduled to take place in 2024. HFC consumption data from 2018, 2019 (where available), 2020, 2021, and 2022 was requested. Data comparison revealed 90% of all data sets held differences of less than 10%, and the secretariat of the Multilateral Fund (MLFS) and the Ozone Secretariat (OzSec) agreed to work together to settle variances in the submitted data. 

The ninth plenary session was enhancing the global and regional atmospheric monitoring of substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol. New options were discussed as to potential upgrades to insufficient or non-existent atmospheric monitoring in certain regions, expanding monitoring capacity and operational challenges and costs of monitoring stations. When gathering emission data, a global approach or a regional approach can be used. When using a global approach, averages from monitoring stations around the world are taken to make calculations. If a regional approach is used, wind trajectories and sightings at a given station are used to observe a single region. Regardless of the approach used, many regions have no existing sampling stations that can be used to collect data, leading to insufficient information acquisition. 

Global emissions can be assessed by long-term CFCs such as CFC-12, which will mix across both the northern and southern hemisphere over the tropics. CFC-12 lifetime is about 102 years in the atmosphere, meaning the annual level being measured should decrease approximately 1% a year once CFC-12 emissions have been completely phased out. After the signing of the protocol in 1988, CFC-12 emissions proceeded to drop. In turn, the atmospheric growth rate began to lose some of its momentum, and by 2005 when CFC-12 emissions were nearly a quarter of what they were in 1988, the atmospheric levels had stopped growing altogether. Today, they are on the decline. 

To assess regional estimates, the wind flowing over productive regions can pick up certain emissions, such as HFC-134a, and carry them towards a monitoring site. For example, the flow of air on the US west coast is generally from west to east. Emissions can be estimated by comparing data from an ocean station and inland station for any difference available. The regional approach has some disadvantages, as there are massive losses of coverage over most of Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Asia, Indonesia, Philippines, New Guinea, and the Malay Peninsula. Currently, the EU-funded pilot project is funding the Bhola Island Station in Bangladesh to help fill in some of the coverage gap existing in Southern Asia. The work done at the station is also being done in collaboration with the University of Bristol and the University of Dhaka. Over 60 samples were collected from the station between February 13th and June 4th of 2023, although some calibration issues have been identified. A continuous calibration and validation standard is ongoing, but the newly collected data shows great promise for the region.

The tenth and final plenary session was the TEAP 2023 progress report. Regarding refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps (RACHP), the technical options committee (RTOC) mainly focused on Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemical regulation, as the 2022 report was concluded in February of this year and no gripping new information has appeared since its conclusion. For ODS and HFC alternatives currently being used, chemical by-products can be generated from their usage overtime, capable of causing harm to both humans and the environment. Due to the adverse side effects that PFAS can produce, long term use of some alternatives is being questioned, and the EPA has already restricted the use of 6 different commonly used PFAS. An unintended consequence of this could lead to a prolonged phase out period of ODS and the phase-down of high GWP HFCs. Considering that the vast majority of HFC consumption is taken up by the RACHP sector, finding an economically and environmentally friendly alternative is of great interest. Most of the current, low GWP alternative fluorinated refrigerants, such as all regulated HFOs, are considered PFAS. A further PFAS restriction could affect the EE of medium sized refrigeration and A/C units and the uptake of low GWP alternative refrigerants. Besides the refrigerants themselves, fluoropolymers being used as seals for compressors and valves of many chillers would also be accepted as PFAS under the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definition. 

During the proposal for the meeting and organization of future technical options committees (TOC), TEAP stated that the RTOC should continue to meet as a single body, with its focus organized separately on both the cold chain and space heating and cooling, with a fourth co-chair to better manage the two specific areas. They will continue to meet and hold separate workshops, in the hopes of delivering a single consensus report.

This concludes all ten of the plenary sessions of the OEGW. While some side events occurred during the 45thmeeting, such as the showcase of the Japan Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Industry Association (JRAIA), the plenary sessions were the focus of this workshop. As the discussions, meetings, and decisions have now converged, the members will meet again in October for MOP-35 to take their votes. 

UNEP (2023). https://ozone.unep.org/meetings/44th-meeting-open-ended-working-group-parties

Author: Jeremiah Unger