NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama agree on a partnership to combat climate change, particularly reducing the use refrigerants like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The United States has taken the lead to forge a consensus to allow for discussions on phasing out the use of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, the UN-sponsored agreement concerned with protecting the ozone layer. During his visit to India, US Secretary of State John Kerry flagged off the need to aggressively phase out the use of HFCs as refrigerants as part of an effort to counter climate change. As refrigerant agent HFC replaces hydrocholofluorocarbons ( HCFC), which is an ozone depleting substance. However, the global warming potential of HFCs is considerable, more potent than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, hence the push to reduce their use. HFCs or commonly refered to as F-gases are among the six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to counter climate change. The Kyoto Protocol sets out quantified emission reduction targets for industrialized countries. However, much of the increased use in HFCs is expected in developing countries particularly those with growing economies and large consumer demand like India, China, Brazil, and South Africa. These countries are under no legal obligation to undertake quantified emission cuts under the climate change agreement. The developing countries would like HFCs to remain a part of the UN sponsored climate process. They argue that any effort move to the discussion away from the climate change negotiations would effectively mean passing on the burden of reducing emissions to developing countries. Industrialised countries would like the Montreal Protocol, which is binding on all countries, to be amended to allow for setting out a process to phase out the use of HFCs. The demand is significant as the UN-sponsored climate negotiations has been marked by lack of progress, and industrialized countries are of the view that tackling the use of HFCs could give climate talks the much needed momentum. The BASIC countries—the grouping of four advanced developing countries—Brazil, South Africa, India, and China, have already indicated that they are open to discuss reducing the use of HFCs “through relevant multilateral fora” as long as these discussions should be “guided by the principles and provisions of UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol”. An agreement on HFCs between India and the US would pave the way for the beginnings of a formal discussions when the meeting under the Montreal Protocol takes place in Bangkok next month. At present, HFCs account for small portion of the emission basket–about 1% of greenhouse gas emissions. Experts say that the share could go up to 3% by 2030. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, HFC emissions are expected to be equivalent to 7 to 19% of the CO2 emissions in 2050.
Urmi A Goswami, ET Bureau