We have 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5°C, beyond which, the impact on human society will become increasingly severe. At 2°C, droughts, floods, sea-level rise, crops shortages and extreme weather events will begin to reshape life as we know it. It’s a half-degree that makes all the difference.
Reading this grim warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it is easy to be afraid. It is easy to point fingers. It is easy to give up in face of a problem that seems so massive it casts a shadow over the whole world. I choose not to do so. I choose to believe that we can radically transform how we manage our energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities in the time left to us.
Believing we can solve this problem is not a matter or blind faith or foolish optimism. The answers are right in front of us and they are far from science fiction. Nowhere, is this more evident than in an often-overlooked accord that – if fully supported by governments, the private sector and ordinary citizens can avoid up to 0.5°C of global warming this century.
The accord is the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, agreed in the capital of Rwanda in late 2016 and set to activate on the first day of 2019.
This deal slashes the use of powerful climate-warming gases in refrigerators, air conditioners and related products. Nations that ratify the Kigali Amendment are committing to cutting the production and consumption of these gases, known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), by more than 80 percent. So far, 60 nations have done so.
How can I be so confident that this agreement will succeed? After all, world leaders have made promises before, and look where we are today. Well, the Kigali Amendment is, in essence, an extension of a promise the world did keep: the one to protect our ozone layer.
When science showed us that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other substances used in industry were tearing a hole in the ozone layer, which protects life on Earth from harmful UV-B radiation, the world responded in the late 1980s by banning them under the Montreal Protocol.
Now, scientists predict that the ozone layer will return to 1980 levels by mid-century, bringing millions fewer cases of skin cancer and less damage to agriculture, forests and fisheries. Cutting out CFCs has also already made a positive impact on climate change, as these gases also warmed the atmosphere.
The Montreal Protocol is one of the most successful multilateral agreements in history for a reason. The careful mix of authoritative science and collaborative action that has defined the Protocol for more than 30 years is precisely why the Kigali Amendment holds such promise.
Last week, parties to the Montreal Protocol met in Quito, Ecuador where they finalized measures for the implementation of the Kigali Amendment at years’ end. It’s a critical moment that will pass largely without fanfare. But make no mistake, the Kigali Amendment’s induction on Jan. 1, holds tremendous potential for climate action in the coming decade.
For those governments who have not done so, I urge you seize this opportunity and add your names to the right side of history by ratifying the Kigali Amendment.
These opportunities lie not only in cutting HFC use. The move to planet-friendly alternatives opens a window to redesign equipment that it is more energy efficient. Action to phase down HFCs and enhance energy efficiency can more than quadruple the effects of action taken in isolation.
Increasing energy efficiency is crucial, for one simple reason. Cooling needs power. When this power comes from fossil-fuel sources, it contributes to climate change, which in turn increases global temperatures and the need for cooling. Energy efficiency can dampen this negative feedback loop.
The responsibility to protect the ozone layer and climate doesn’t lie with governments alone, however.
The private sector must adopt and embrace the new technology. Individuals can do their part by using their refrigerators, air conditioners and other equipment in ways that minimize negative impacts on climate and environment.
The bottom line is that the Kigali Amendment is a solution to climate change that is here, now. By supporting it, we can be part of a positive change rather than passive observers to humanity’s decline. This is a chance we cannot afford to miss.
Erik Solheim is executive director of UN Environment.