- Jan 24 2017 11:59:52AM
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The long standing debate over phasing out of Hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) has reached to an end in Twenty-Eighth Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (MOP28) in Kigali city of Rwanda, when 197 countries came together to sign the amendment in Montreal Protocol. This amendment has popularly been known as “Kigali amendment”.
Over the years, there has been persistent debate between developing countries and developed countries on the issue of under what framework HFCs should be phased out. Developing countries wanted HFCs discussions under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) framework whereas the developed countries group led by the USA and the EU, wanted all discussions pertaining to removal of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.
However, as per the recently concluded MOP in Kigali, the Kigali Amendment seeks to amend the 1987 Montreal Protocol which is aimed at phasing out Hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), a family of potent greenhouse gases by the late 2040s under Montreal protocol framework. Under this Amendment, all 197 countries, including India have agreed to a timeline to reduce the use of HFCs by roughly 85% of their baselines by 2045.
Historical perspective of Montreal Protocol
Montreal protocol is a part of Vienna convention of the protection of the ozone layer, also known as “Montreal Convention”. It was signed back in Vienna convention in 1985 in order to protect the ozone layer by phasing out all substances which cause ozone depletion. Since its adoption in 1987, the protocol has undergone several re-examination and amendments as per the need of time. Kigali amendment being the latest amendment which sought to phase out HFCs by 2045. Due to its legally binding nature and increased awareness about ozone depletion, within only 25 years of signing, parties to the Montreal Protocol has achieved significant milestones. Significantly, the world has phased-out 98% of the Ozone-Depleting Substances (ODS) contained in nearly 100 hazardous chemicals worldwide; every country is in compliance with stringent obligations; and, the Montreal Protocol has achieved the status of the first global regime with universal ratification; even the newest member state, South Sudan, ratified in 2013.
Significance of Kigali meeting of Parties (MoP-28)
Kigali amendment has been held historic in the sense that for the first time any global treaty has phased out a substance on basis of its greenhouse warming potential (GWP). Hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs) are not ozone depleting substances per se and in-fact these were adopted as option of Chloro-Flouro Carbon (CFCs) and Hydro-FlouroChloro Carbons (HCFC), severely ozone depleting substances. However, HFC’s greenhouse warming potential (GWP) is much higher than all these mentioned. The average lifespan of HFCs is also significantly higher than other greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Kigali Amendment amends the 1987 Montreal Protocol and therefore, makes it mandatory for each party of the convention to phase out HFCs within a definite timeline. Thus, in this way, amended Montreal Protocol which was initially conceived only to plug gases that were destroying the ozone layer now includes HFCs responsible for global warming. This move will help to prevent a potential 0.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperature by the end of the century.
The key aspects of Kigali agreement:
- Under the Kigali agreement, parties have been classified into three different groups and they are given different timelines to phase out HFCs. The first group is of developed countries including the USA and the EU, second group is of developing countries with high rate of consumption of HFC like China. The third group includes developing countries and least developed countries with low consumption rate of HFCs like India and Pakistan, etc.
- Currently, 65% of total HFCs is produced and consumed by developed countries, out of which the USA alone accounts for more than 39% of consumption of HFCs. China accounts for 60 per cent of global HFC production and 25 per cent of global consumption. At present, India accounts for only 6% of global consumption of HFCs.
- Overall, the agreement is expected to reduce HFC use by 85 per cent by 2045. This will result in a reduction of HFC emissions equivalent to about 70 billion tonne of CO2 globally. This is equal to more than 12 years of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the US, world’s second largest emitter of GHG.
Different groups of countries under Kigali agreement
India’s stand at Kigali:
- India as initiator: Before Kigali, India’s image in climate change negotiations was known mere as ‘reactor’ to other proposals. India has never been known for initiating climate change negotiation. However, this time, along with three more countries, India were amongst the first four countries to propose to phase out HFCs.
- Lead by example: India asked developed countries to lead by example. India’s stand was that it would agree on its baseline years from 2028-2030 to 2024-26 if developed countries agreed to reduce their HFC use by 70 per cent by 2027 and provide greater assistance to the developing countries in terms of finance and technology.
- Differentiated approach: India also demanded a dual reduction schedule for developing countries: one for China and all those who wanted to align with China and another for India and other developing countries. It was accepted and incorporated in the agreement.
- Volunteer actions: Midst the discussion, India announced voluntary action to eliminate emissions of HFC-23 with immediate effect. HFC-23 is a super greenhouse gas with a GWP of 14,800 and is produced as a byproduct of HCFC-22. HCFC-22 is the most commonly used refrigerant in India currently.
Ultimately, India agreed to accept 2024-2026 as baseline and 85 per cent HFC use reduction by 2047. In return, developed countries agreed to reduce HFC use by 70 per cent by 2029 and 85 per cent by 2036. China agreed to a baseline of 2020-2024 and 80 per cent HFC use reduction by 2045.
Implications for Indian industry:
In short term, there would be insignificant impact of this agreement on Indian industry as India accounts for only 6% of global consumption. India is presently underway of phasing out HCFC-22. However, many experts have been fearing that in long run this agreement may affect Indian industry. One of the main reasons for their fear is that the American multinationals—Honeywell International and DuPont Chemicals—have developed an alternative to HFCs, called HFOs. These HFOs are patented products and companies may leverage this by flooding Indian market with costly HFOs.Do You Know?
What are HFOs?
Hydro-fluoroolefins (HFOs) are unsaturated compound which once reached in the atmosphere, dissociate quickly leading to its low greenhouse gas potential (GHP). The same unstable nature however may also lead to by-products like trifluoroacetic acid (TFA), which in significant quantities is known to cause environmental damage in aquatic ecosystems. Additionally, some of the processes for the manufacture of HFO use HCFC 22 as feedstock, which may lead to the production of HFC 23—a super greenhouse gas, with a GWP of 14,800.
However, India went with a clear strategy to start reducing the use of HFCs when the patent for HFOs expires. As the patent for these chemicals are slated to lapse in 2026/ 2028 in India, India deliberately chose 2024-2026 as baseline.
Secondly, India linked its reduction schedule with that of the developed countries. Under the agreement, in 2029, when India will start reducing the use of HFCs, developed countries will reach an HFC reduction of 70 per cent. This means, by 2029 there will be greater technological optimization and increased economies of scale for HFC alternatives to meet the needs of the developed countries. This will result in further reduction in costs for countries like India.
However, this agreement is a great opportunity for Indian industry to chart a new environment-friendly growth trajectory based on non-fluorinated chemicals like hydrocarbons.
The Kigali agreement offers a golden opportunity to the entire global community to strike a balance among development, environment conservation, equity and national aspirations. For long been, the environment conservation negotiations have been seen mere as tool in hands of some developed countries and multi-national companies to serve their vested political and economic interests. However, the recently concluded Kigali agreement reflect the global concerns and ability to come over on same plane on degrading environment issues. The world lost the opportunity 20 years ago in 1998 in Australia, when it knew that ozone substitutes had huge implications for climate. But the business interests took over and the world did not look at the then nascent but viable hydrocarbon option, simply because they were cheaper and had no patent masters. This must not be repeated. Implementation of phasing out of HFCs are going to be tough and challenging. After all, there are markets to be gained and lost and money to be made. But in all these, we must not forget the past mistakes and find answers that benefit people and the planet. Much is at stake for the world’s “most successful” environmental treaty.