It is highly likely that 2017 will be one of the three hottest years on record. It comes as no surprise that this rise in average global temperatures is a consequence of the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. What is not widely known is that extremely large amounts of these gases remain improperly stored in several countries which lack the infrastructure to destroy them.
The stockpiling of a significant part of those chemicals is a consequence of one of the world’s most celebrated environmental treaties: The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Established in 1987, it has been remarkably successful in reducing the consumption and production of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), putting the ozone layer on the road to recovery. Because these substances have a high global warming potential, the implementation of the Montreal Protocol has also helped slow down climate change.
The treaty initially focused on phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals that were widely used as refrigerants, solvents and blowing agents and in aerosols. However, because CFCs were so important to several industries, they could not be simply eliminated. Replacement gases had to be used. Their main substitutes for CFCs are hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which unfortunately also have enormous global warming potential.
The process of phasing out these harmful chemicals can represent a challenge for many developing countries which may not have the technical capacities necessary to safely collect, transport and destroy these substances. As a consequence, countries holding large amounts of ODS banks have to send these gases to developed countries where they can be destroyed.