ONE of the most successful international environmental agreements is the Montreal Protocol. Not only in terms of participation (all countries in the United Nations signed the protocol) but most importantly in achieving its goal of saving the ozone layer.

Because of reduced emissions of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said that the ozone layer has not grown thinner since 1998 over most of the world and it appears to be recovering. The ozone layer is projected to return to pre-1980 levels by 2050 to 2075. But the phase out of CFCs created another problem - the use of HFCs or hydrofluorocarbons which were used as replacement for CFCs.

Hydrofluorocarbons are organic compounds that contain fluorine and hydrogen atoms that are commonly used in air conditioning and as refrigerants in place of the ODS such as R-12 and R-21. They do not harm the ozone layer as much as the compounds they replace but they do contribute to global warming. They are powerful greenhouse gases that can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change.

To address this concern, delegates from all over the world convened in October last year in Nairobi, Kenya to reach a deal that would mandate countries to phase down the production and usage of HFCs. The agreement, now referred to as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, was adopted on October 15, 2016 and expected to enter into force on January 1, 2019.

Experts believe that the new agreement could be the single largest real contribution the world has made so far towards keeping the global temperature rise "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year. This amendment is a huge step forward to achieving that target.

The new deal includes specific targets and timetables to replace HFCs with more planet-friendly alternatives, provisions to prohibit or restrict countries that have ratified the protocol or its amendments from trading in controlled substances with states that are yet to ratify it, and an agreement by rich countries to help finance the transition of poor countries to alternative safer products.

Here in the Philippines, DENR Secretary Roy A. Cimatu appealed to the refrigeration and air-conditioning sector to support the gradual phasedown of HFCs. He made the appeal during the celebration of the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer last September 16, which also marks the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Montreal Protocol.

Cimatu said the Philippines can greatly benefit from the financial and technical support provided under the Montreal Protocol for parties to the Kigali Amendment. He noted that the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol has provided over US$3.5 billion to developing countries to phase out ODS.