With India deciding to ratify the Paris Agreement on October 2, the focus is now shifted to the country's move on curbing the use of climate-damaging refrigerants hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under Montreal Protocol at the time when nearly 200 countries are gearing up to meet in Kigali, Rwanda next month to discuss amendment to this 1987 global deal.

The countries are expected to set a 'freezing year' in the Kigali meet to phase down production and consumption of the HFC which has huge global warming potential.

Though the rich nations led by the US want an early 'freezing year' (2021), India has been insisting to use HFCs till 2031 before it starts phasing them down. The 'freezing year' is the year when use of HFCs will peak before being rapidly scaled down and finally phased out altogether.

There are indications that the countries will finally arrive at the cut-off somewhere in between and agree for 2025 or 2026 as 'freezing year', provided the developing countries including India are promised adequate funding from multilateral fund for research and development of low global warming potential (GWP) alternatives and capacity building so that the technological transition can be achieved.

Alternatively, the countries will agree for different 'freezing years' for developed and developing countries, taking in view their consumption patterns of the climate-damaging refrigerants.

"India would seek an equitable agreement in Kigali that is in the best interests of the nation, its people as well as the larger global community", said environment minister Anil Madhav Dave while addressing a meeting of stakeholders here on Monday -- a remark that made it clear that the country would not take any decision which may go against its domestic industries and consumers.

Concerns over additional cost involved in migrating to alternatives of HFCs were discussed in the meeting, attended by experts and representatives of industries. The environment ministry later shared findings of a recent research of the Delhi-based think-tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) which noted that the economy wide cost for transition for India between 2015 and 2050 would be 12 billion Euros for the Indian proposal and 34 billion Euros for the proposal of the rich nations.

"There are different estimates as to what it will cost to make the switch. But, we must emphasise in Kigali that the commitment of donor countries has to be absolute and this assurance is necessary to fulfil any commitments India makes", said R R Rashmi, special secretary in the ministry -- an indication that India will be able to move on the HFCs' 'phase down' path quickly only if it gets cost-effective alternatives and financial support.

The HFCs are, currently, widely used as alternatives to hydroclorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting substance (ODS) that are being phased-out under the Montreal Protocol which was signed in 1987. Phasing out ODS is important to protect the stratospheric ozone layer which filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation, which is associated with increased prevalence of skin cancer and cataracts.

Though the HFC is not ODS, its global warming potential is thousands of times that of carbon dioxide. The global community, therefore, wants to curb its use under the Montreal Protocol which is considered as one of the best international treaties.

Source: September 28, 2016, The Times of India