India's Initiative To Phase Out HFCs Is A Step Towards Global Climate Leadership

22/09/2016 1:40 PM IST | Updated 26/09/2016 8:13 AM IST
Rupak De Chowdhuri / Reuters

It is a momentous time for climate action. In the afternoon of 21 September at a ceremony in New York, 60 countries representing 48% of global emissions joined the Paris Agreement. This brings the Agreement within an arm's reach of entry into force, which is triggered when countries representing 55% global emissions have joined. This development builds upon momentum from just a week ago, when the world celebrated the 22nd International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. On Ozone Day this year, the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) sent clear signals that it was ready to contribute to strong climate action, and announced major new collaborative initiatives for research and development (R&D) on climate-friendly refrigerants. With momentum building towards the Paris Agreement as well as the Montreal Protocol, 2016 is well on its way towards being seen in history as the year world leaders first came together to kick-start action on climate change.

The MoEFCC sent clear signals that it was ready to contribute to strong climate action, and announced major new collaborative initiatives for R&D on climate-friendly refrigerants.

The Montreal Protocol has historically been the most successful global environmental treaty—and recent scientific studies show that the ozone layer is on the path back to recovery thanks to the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances orchestrated by this treaty. Last week's new initiative is expected to support India and the rest of the world in continuing with that legacy, by helping find alternatives that can be used to phase down highly potent hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases under Montreal Protocol.

In October, as countries convene for the next Montreal Protocol meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, there is hope that they can come together to amend the treaty to control the use of HFCs—greenhouse gases with thousands of times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide. After years of negotiations, countries coming together in Kigali have the opportunity and the obligation to achieve the target they set for themselves as part of the Dubai Pathway, to negotiate and reach an HFC phase down amendment in 2016.

Phasing down production and use of HFCs will help avoid up to 0.5 degrees of global warming by the end of the century. Scientists Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina, who shared a Nobel prize for their discovery of the link between use of refrigerants and the ozone layer, recently wrote in an op-ed:

"The (Montreal Protocol) amendment (to phase down HFCs) could prevent the release of as much as 100-200 billion tons of climate-changing emissions by 2050... enough to take the world a quarter of the way toward achieving the 2 degrees Celsius global-warming target set by the Paris agreement."

Through the initiative announced last week, India will begin taking strong domestic action and transition away from high global-warming-potential (GWP) HFCs, with funding support from the MoEFCC, along with India's Department of Science and Technology (DST), Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and Indian industry members through a corpus dedicated to innovation. The announcement demonstrates India's commitment towards phasing down the use of HFCs, and sends a signal that it is looking at domestic industry and research institutions for leadership on low-carbon technologies. India's leadership on low-GWP solutions, coupled with a strong agreement including early action and an ambitious phase down schedule are necessary if the significant climate benefits predicted by Rowland and Molina are to be realized.

Moving away from high GWP HFCs early on will be a significant opportunity for India. Under the agreement, manufacturers would be able to catalyze gains in air conditioning and refrigeration system efficiency and help reduce indirect carbon dioxide emissions from air-conditioning use. Building a climate-friendly chemical manufacturing base in India through support from the Montreal Protocol's Multilateral Fund (MLF) would help Indian companies and result in significant gains for the economy. This support would help companies target growing export markets in the developed world, as they shift to climate friendly alternatives. Indian companies would also avoid locking into obsolete technology, while covering transition costs through support from the MLF.

India needs to take on the role of a global climate leader in Kigali, and bring the world towards an ambitious commitment on HFCs.

There is growing agreement that HFCs are not the best technical choice for a developing country like India. Environmentally superior alternatives have been commercialized and are emerging for most applications, and global markets are surging ahead. As a leader in commercializing unitary hydrocarbon room air conditioners, India stands to gain from embracing an early transition.

Since the approval of India's original program for Phase-out of Ozone Depleting Substances in 1993, the country has shown proactive policy actions and met phase-out targets ahead of schedule. Last week's R&D initiative, and technical and financial assistance from the MLF present an opportunity for India to be in a leading position in phasing down HFCs. India needs to take on the role of a global climate leader in Kigali, and bring the world towards an ambitious commitment on HFCs. It would position the country well to take advantage of an emerging market, prevent major share of future climate-changing emissions before they occur, and lock in energy savings while achieving its targets of energy security and energy access for millions living in poverty. That would truly make 2016 a historic year for climate.

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