HFC gas phase-out: India, US reach compromise to fight climate change

INDIA AND the United States reached a compromise following daylong deliberations over the phase-out of HFC gases, paving the way for the finalisation of the second major international agreement to fight climate change in less than two years.

Countries in Kigali are all set to finalise an agreement, by Friday night or Saturday morning, to amend the 1989 ozone-saving Montreal Protocol to enable it to eliminate the hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases as well. HFCs are used predominantly in the air-conditioning and refrigerant industry and are several hundred or thousand times more powerful than carbon dioxide in inducing global warming.

The elimination of HFCs by 2050 is estimated to prevent about 0.5 degree rise in global temperatures by 2100. So, the Montreal Protocol amendment is seen as one of the most important roads to reach the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2 degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.

The breakthrough came in the afternoon after several rounds of consultations between the Indian and US negotiating teams. Indian Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave and US Secretary of State John Kerry met twice to resolve matters. The US conceded India’s primary demand to have a separate timeline for itself, and a group of other countries, for phasing out the HFCs. India’s first target is likely to be a 10 per cent reduction in 2032 compared to a baseline of average production and consumption during 2024-26. Developed countries are likely to start making reductions from 2019 against a baseline period of 2011-13 while another set of developing countries, including China,Brazil and South Africa, has 2020-22 as the baseline.

For the first time, developing countries will have two sets of baseline years under the Montreal Protocol, which has successfully eliminated several ozone-depleting chemicals, like chlorofluorocarbons, in the nearly three decades of its existence. India, however, had to accept a ‘freeze year’ for its HFC production and consumption, something it was not inclined to do initially. In the freeze year, HFC production and consumption must not exceed that of the baseline period average. India had been arguing that it be allowed to meet its 2032 target of 10 per cent reduction without having a ‘freeze year’. Following pressure from the US and other countries, India proposed 2030 as the freeze year. The US insisted on 2027. Finally, India got 2028 as the freeze year.

“We will have a technology review around 2022 and if it is assessed that the cleaner alternatives to HFC chemicals are not available to the Indian industry to sustain its growth, then the freeze year can be 2030 that we have been asking for,” said India’s lead negotiator Manoj Kumar Singh.

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