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India's Vow To Kill Super Greenhouse Gas Is A Major Step In Combating Climate Change

13/10/2016 11:31 PM IST | Updated 25/10/2016 8:31 AM IST
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At a global meet in Rwandan capital Kigali to phase out coolants that are causing climate change, the Indian government has announced a law to eliminate HFC-23, a super greenhouse gas.

Douglas LeMoine
HFCs got to go.

In a display of climate-friendly intent, India said at an international meeting this month that it has enacted a law to stop emissions of HFC-23, a gas that is thousands of times more harmful than carbon dioxide in heating up the planet.

The announcement was made by India's environment minister Anil Madhav Dave, who was recently in Kigali, Rwanda, to attend a high-level meeting on the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty designed to protect the earth's ozone layer. HFC-23 is a by-product of HCFC-22, which is used in refrigeration and air conditioning. This variant of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) has a global warming potential 14,800 times more than that of carbon dioxide.

With this domestic legislation to control the emissions of HFC-23, India is sending a strong signal to the world... Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE

The new Indian law requires the five Indian firms that produce HCFC-22 to capture and burn HFC-23 and eliminate its release into the atmosphere. It will potentially avoid emissions of HFC-23 equivalent to 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years.

Recent negotiations

In the recent negotiations at Kigali on phasing out HFCs, some developing countries, including China, demanded financial support from developed countries for incineration of HFC-23. However, India has now clearly said it will eliminate HFC-23 regardless of help from developed economies.

The announcement comes days after a global pact on aviation emissions in Montreal, Canada, where India voiced strong reservations about any market-based measure of carbon offsets. India said such a measure would increase costs for developing countries and reduce accountability of historically more polluting nations.

India, the world's third-largest carbon emitter, has been taking more steps to battle climate change. On 2 October, the Narendra Modi government ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to limit the rise in global warming to "well below" 2° Celsius. The Paris Agreement will come into force on 4 November.

"With this domestic legislation to control the emissions of HFC-23, India is sending a strong signal to the world that it is serious about the climate change issue," Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based think tank, said in a statement from Kigali.

Funds for incinerators

Five Indian companies, along with 19 other firms mainly in China, had earlier received funds to set up incinerators under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). During 2007-2013, they destroyed the gas and sold the carbon credits to developed countries. Since the collapse of the global CDM market, the levels of HFC-23 in the atmosphere have increased.

The drive to phase down HFCs cannot be complete without all major countries rallying around a strong agreement that rapidly curbs these supercharged climate pollutants.Anjali Jaiswal, India Initiative director, Natural Resources Defence Council

In a business-as-usual scenario, global HCFC-22 manufacturing units will release more than 2 billion tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent of HFC-23 into the atmosphere by 2020, according to CSE. Most of this release will happen in China. Under the new legislation in India, the five domestic firms have to now bear the costs of incineration.

Incidentally, preventing the release of 100-200 billion tonnes of climate-changing emissions by 2050 would be enough to take the world a quarter of the way towards achieving the 2° Celsius global-warming target set by the December 2015 Paris Agreement.

"The drive to phase down HFCs cannot be complete without all major countries rallying around a strong agreement that rapidly curbs these supercharged climate pollutants," Anjali Jaiswal, India Initiative director at Natural Resources Defence Council, an advocacy group, had said in an earlier statement.

This was first published in India Climate Dialogue.

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