World leaders from more than 40 countries met in Vienna this month with delegations from nearly 200 nations to hammer out a deal using the world's most successful climate treaty -- the Montreal Protocol -- to help pull the emergency brake on climate change.
Building on the momentum from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the June 2016 Modi-Obama summit, phasing down potent, heat trapping hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases under the Montreal Protocol could be this year's biggest climate win. The meeting in Vienna brings us a step closer to a global agreement to phase down HFCs and help countries meet and deepen their commitments to curb climate-changing pollution.
Curbing HFCs is an immediate, low-hanging fruit that can help avoid raising global temperatures.
HFCs are global warming gases used in a host of everyday applications, including room and vehicle air conditioners, refrigerators, foams and solvents. The markets for equipment using HFCs are growing, threatening a skyrocketing use in emerging markets, such as India. Restraining HFC growth could help avoid 0.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures, providing a boost towards Paris Agreement's goal of holding warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Curbing HFCs is an immediate, low-hanging fruit that can help avoid raising global temperatures.
Charting the course to achieve a global agreement
Recognizing the benefits of an HFC agreement, over 108 countries -- including India, China, African nations, Island nations, the EU, and the US -- support an amendment to phase down HFCs. During the November 2015 Dubai Montreal Protocol meeting, just weeks before the Paris climate talks, countries agreed to "work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016" and charted a course for achieving a global phase down – from Dubai to Vienna to Kigali.
The Vienna meeting began on a positive note with engagement by senior leaders from the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, US Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, among other leaders. In a statement, US secretary of state John Kerry said, "[W]e have begun to meet our generational responsibility to the future, to our children and grandchildren, to leave them with a world that is sustainable."
The meeting, which concluded in the early hours on Sunday morning, made considerable progress towards a Montreal Protocol amendment in 2016. Negotiators signalled deep commitment to climate action before the one year anniversary of the Paris Agreement, and narrowed down differences on key issues. Developing and developed countries closed differences on selection of baselines and financing, which will pave the way for productive discussions in Kigali when Parties meet again in October, weeks before the next climate talks in Marrakesh, Morocco.
A global phase-down for a level playing field
A freeze year marks the start date to limit HFC use and is critical because greater climate benefits result if HFC use is curtailed sooner. Under the Montreal Protocol's familiar approach, developing and developed countries have separate freeze years, and developed countries move first. In Vienna, countries discussed the challenges of determining baselines and traded views on longer and shorter baselines, with parties on both sides of the table demonstrating a willingness to negotiate in order to find a middle ground.
Securing a favourable Montreal Protocol HFC agreement presents a major opportunity for India.
Japan, Australia, the EU, the US and other nations are moving forward with domestic policies to reduce HFCs. A global HFC phase-down is a vital policy instrument to keep markets in check. A national or regional approach creates an unequal playing field. It denies industry the long term visibility and certainty. It also limits investment in research and development of environmentally superior alternatives.
A global amendment will provide a tried and tested way -- through the Montreal Protocol -- to phase down HFCs. As reiterated by governments, business and civil society this week, the Montreal Protocol has a proven track record in protecting the ozone layer and the climate. The Montreal Protocol can provide adequate financing to transition developing markets to shift to environmentally-friendly technologies that are more affordable. It also sends a clear market signal for future businesses investments.
Opportunities for the Indian market
Securing a favourable Montreal Protocol HFC agreement presents a major opportunity for India. Indian companies can seek funds to cover costs for transitioning to better alternatives. Since the technology is rapidly changing, Indian companies can also look ahead and avoid obsolete technology while covering transition costs from the Montreal Protocol's Multilateral Fund.
Another big benefit for India will be availability of funding to spur energy-efficient appliances, further locking in energy and costs savings. By working to tackle peak electricity demand -- which is directly correlated with air conditioning use -- India can move towards energy security and universal energy access.
Harnessing the good will built among nations on climate change this past year and in Vienna last week, countries are on track for an HFC phase-down agreement in Kigali this year. With the survival of millions of people hinging on actions taken today, an HFC agreement is crucial to a stable, safer and prosperous future for our planet.