World celebrates Ozone Day while the planet waits for action on HFCs
As the world celebrates International Ozone Day to commemorate the signing of the Montreal Protocol, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has highlighted the urgent need to phase-down a class of greenhouse gases known as HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) under the Montreal Protocol. CSE, an Indian public interest research and advocacy organization, called for global action on HFCs in its latest issue of Down to Earth.
HFCs are chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning that have been commercialized as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances (ODS). While they do not deplete the ozone layer, HFCs are hundreds and thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide in affecting the global climate. More than 115 countries support phasing-down these harmful chemicals under the Montreal Protocol, which has effectively rid the world of 97 percent of ODS and also prevented massive carbon emissions.
Despite strong support for this action, India has been one of the few countries opposing a phase-down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. We urge the Indian government to support an HFC phase-down in the long-term interests of the country and the climate.
Montreal Protocol is the Mechanism of Choice
Using the Montreal Protocol to phase-down the consumption and production of HFCs is becoming a reality. In fact, earlier this month, the G20 committed to using Montreal Protocol to phase-down HFCs while keeping the accounting of their emissions under the climate treaty known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
While a few countries including India have argued that the Montreal Protocol is not the right place to discuss HFCs, CSE asserts that the “Montreal Protocol is… clearly the mechanism of choice.”
The New Delhi organization goes a step further by calling on countries to be even more ambitious, arguing that both developed and developing countries have a duty to protect the global climate and immediately start phasing down HFCs. “If developing countries are to leapfrog HFCs and transition to environmentally-friendly alternatives, then the rich world, already emitting HFCs, cannot keep using it for the next 20-25 years. Clearly, a much more strict phase-out schedule for the industrialized countries will have to be agreed to,” states CSE.
The Montreal Protocol has its annual Meeting of the Parties in Bangkok this Ooctober when the issue of an HFC phase-down will be negotiated. Such action would give the broader climate negotiation a much needed boost and model for moving forward.
CSE raises the legitimate question of what alternatives can developing countries use as they transition from HFCs. We believe moving to natural refrigerants will put India’s alternatives industry at the forefront of the next generation of refrigerants and on a par with China. This could allow India to control its own refrigeration and air conditioning market thereby reducing India’s reliance on imported patent-protected refrigerants. Which is why CSE asks how the world can “incentivize a single leapfrog this time” in order to prevent converting into HFCs, which are a dead-end technology that will eventually have to be phased-out again.
HFC-23 is still an Open Question
The CSE analysis also highlights the obscene profits made by India’s refrigerant industry, which was funded to phase out ODS under the Montreal Protocol and then funded to burn HFC-23 under UNFCCC. HFC-23, a potent greenhouse gas part of the HFC family, has a global warming potential 14,800 times that of CO2. Our recent report exposed that certain Chinese and Indian plants, are holding the world hostage by threatening to release this climate damaging gas if they don't receive millions of dollars for its destruction.
CSE reiterates our concerns that companies do not have incentives to destroy HFC-23. Down to Earth quotes Sukumar Devotta, former director of the Indian National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, saying that without any “legal rule” to do otherwise, “companies would choose to release [HFC-23] as storage costs money and they are no longer paid for incineration.”
On International Ozone Day, countries of the world need to agree that it would be foolish to switch to climate damaging chemicals like HFCs in order to save the ozone. As CSE says “much is at stake for the world’s 'most successful' environmental treaty.”
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