India Moves Towards Phase-Down of HFCs at G20 Summit

Blog Post by Bhaskar Deol, NRDC India Representative

Earlier today in Saint Petersburg, world leaders participating at the G20 summit made significant progress to protect the climate by moving a step closer to addressing HFCs—super greenhouse gases with a global warming impact thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide. India is reasserting its leadership role in the Montreal Protocol by agreeing to use this treaty to negotiate a phase-down of HFCs. This G20 agreement marks an important new signal from India. 

Phasing down these gases would be a big deal. A phase-down agreement could cut out HFCs with a heat-trapping punch equivalent to as much as 90 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the coming decades. That’s equal to eliminating two years worth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. It would make a noticeable dent, reducing climate change that is wreaking havoc across the world.

After years of diplomatic gridlock, the countries meeting at the Montreal Protocol in Bangkok earlier this year formed a discussion group to deliberate on a coordinated international effort to phase down HFCs. In Bangkok, India had stressed the need for legal clarity and careful assessment of economic and technical viability of alternatives, and for financial mechanisms that facilitate technology transfer. Today, building on progress in Bangkok this summer, world leaders at the G20 including India, South Africa and China agreed to negotiate in earnest on the nuts and bolts of the agreement. They moved from a position of “whether they should agree” to “what kind of agreement” they should reach.

The G20 countries agreed to:

“support complementary initiatives, through multilateral approaches that include using the expertise and the institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), based on the examination of economically viable and technically feasible alternatives.  We will continue to include HFCs within the scope of UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol for accounting and reporting of emissions.”

In addition to the G20 agreement, U.S. President Obama and the Chinese President Xi also stepped up their own bilateral engagement on HFCs:

“As a next step on HFCs to establish a contact group under the Montreal Protocol to consider issues related to cost-effectiveness, financial and technology support, safety, environmental benefits, and an amendment to the Montreal Protocol.”

India has led before in phasing out CFCs and other chemicals under the Montreal Protocol ahead of schedule. Our paper Cooling India with Less Warming shows that India can lead the way again and that Indian industry is already responding to international and domestic market trends through technology innovations. The paper, developed in partnership with Indian and international organizations and in consultation with a wide range of industry stakeholders, finds that a range of alternative climate-friendlier technologies are available now and on the horizon, to leapfrog HFCs where they are not already used and to reduce them where they are currently in play.

Moving forward with a phase-down of HFCs would be a win-win for India as Dr. Pachauri of The Energy Resources Institute recently confirmed. The HFC alternatives available today bring complementary energy efficiency benefits to consumers, reducing India’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and the likelihood of blackouts all while accruing significant climate benefits. As Dr. Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of the Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment, and Water put it:

“India can and should choose to move away from unsustainable technologies like HFCs and move to a future based on cleaner refrigerants and energy-efficient equipment designs.”

These are all strong signs that real progress will be made in the next round of Montreal treaty talks, taking place in Bangkok this October, and that all the key countries are ready to reach an HFC deal next year. Today’s announcements will certainly build momentum towards an international agreement on HFCs that still meets the key needs of Indian companies and consumers.