Update from Bangkok: Civil Society Groups Urge India to Lead in HFC Phase Down

Guest Blog Post by Bhaskar Deol, India Representative

Governments from all over the world have gathered in Bangkok for the annual meeting of the Montreal Protocol, the world’s most successful global environmental treaty.  This year, the key question for the Montreal Protocol is whether countries can agree on a pathway to rein in the expansion of super greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), to nip this growing problem in the bud.  Key Indian civil society groups are also urging action in Bangkok and reacting strongly to the position of the Indian government  negotiating team’s opposition to discussing the important topic of a phasing down HFCs – in apparent contradiction to recent commitments by India’s Prime Minister.

This week, the Indian government negotiating team has opposed even forming a “contact group” to begin hashing out the technical, financial, and other issues that countries must resolve to put their leaders’ commitments to phase down HFCs into practice.  Yet, Indian civil society groups are aligned in the view that the government should engage in, not block, the path forward to considering an HFC phase-down under the Montreal Protocol.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) – a leading Indian environmental group – has urged India to take a lead under the Montreal Protocol, stating:

"The Government of India should agree to setup a contact group to discuss the management of HFCs where countries can turn in their submissions on how Montreal Protocol should address control of HFCs."

 The Council on Energy Environment and Water (CEEW) – a leading Delhi-based think tank and co-author of our HFCs study Cooling India with Less Warming – has said:

"Discussing HFCs with the U.S. bilaterally and negotiating a multilateral roadmap to phase down HFCs in both developed and developing countries are not mutually exclusive exercises. HFCs, which are hundreds to thousands of times more potent global warming compounds than carbon dioxide, deserve attention alongside CO2. By participating in Montreal Protocol discussions, India can ensure that developed countries act on HFCs now and fast, and that developing countries have access to technologically and commercially feasible alternatives with financial support from the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund."

 CSE and CEEW urge this path forward because a contact group with the scope to consider both the substantive issues, such as alternatives technology and financing, and specific HFC amendment proposals would give all parties involved a forum to discuss their concerns in a systematic manner.  India can respond to any shortcomings in the current HFC proposals by putting its own amendment proposals on the table.

As background, the Montreal Protocol has had historic success phasing out the chemicals that would have destroyed the ozone layer.  It has spawned a new class of heat-trapping gases, HFCs, as replacement chemicals.  Their extraordinarily rapid growth as refrigerants and for other uses threatens to take back the Montreal Protocol’s climate change gains.  HFCs are on track to account for as much as one-fifth of all heat-trapping pollution by 2050 – unless action is taken now.

Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh joined the leaders of the G-20 last month in a specific commitment to use the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs, while continuing to track their emissions under the climate treaties.  The Prime Minister echoed the same commitment a week later in Washington in a bilateral agreement with U.S. President Barack Obama.  These commitments mirrored similar bilateral statements by Obama and Chinese President Xi.  Taken together, these announcements highlight a remarkable political alignment of the three countries with the greatest potential to arrest the rapid growth of HFCs.

Embarking on a phase down of HFCs would be a win-win for India. As urged by key civil society groups in India, the Indian government negotiation team at Bangkok has the opportunity to take the lead to support the environment, business and the Indian consumer.  The final outcome of this week’s meeting will unfold by Friday.