Why We Need an Ambitious HFC Phasedown Agreement in 2016

Representatives of almost 150 countries including India have spent the last 9 days in Vienna in intense discussions working towards an agreement under the Montreal Protocol to phase down production and consumption of the potent global warming chemicals called hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases. An ambitious agreement has the potential to prevent 0.5 degree C of temperature rise by the end of the century, a critical step in the fight against climate change. Parties have made significant progress and continued to discuss acceptable options through the wee hours of Sunday morning concluding significantly closer to agreeing on critical elements of an amendment.  As a major developing economy, India too stands to gain significantly from an ambitious amendment in the next meeting, scheduled for Kigali in October 2016. 

Earlier this week, the parties agreed to continue using the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund (MLF)—the mechanism through which donor countries helped developing countries phase out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and many other ozone-destroying and climate-damaging chemicals—and to provide sufficient resources to help those countries meet new HFC commitments. Parties also began detailed discussions on key elements of an agreement including when growth of HFCs will be stopped—the freeze year, the benchmark against which HFC consumption will be reduced—the baseline, and the timeline according to which the phasedown will occur—the control schedule.

This is the first time that Parties have come together and discussed specific ranges that may be workable for developed and developing countries, signaling progress and setting the stage for an ambitious phasedown agreement in Kigali, as discussed by NRDC’s Climate Director David Doniger in his blog here.

India, in particular, stands to gain from an ambitious agreement in Kigali that allows countries to phase down HFCs sooner rather than later.

  1. Businesses in India can seek funds to cover costs for transitioning to better alternatives. Since the technology is rapidly changing, Indian companies can also look ahead and avoid obsolete technology while receiving transition costs from the MLF, an opportunity for Indian businesses to modernize and access global markets.
  2. Rising temperatures will only multiply demand for air conditioning.  Under the agreement, India could receive funding to spur energy efficiency improvements in appliances, further locking in energy and costs savings. By reducing peak electricity demand—which is directly correlated with air conditioning use—India can move towards energy security and energy access for millions who are still living without access to modern electricity.
  3. India has tens of millions of citizens who still live below the poverty line, making them most vulnerable to heat waves, floods, and the other impacts of climate change. India has seen rising numbers of deaths in the historic 2015 and 2016 heat waves and erratic and unpredictable monsoons. An agreement that limits climate change is crucial for safeguarding vulnerable Indians while ensuring their productivity and contribution to the nation’s economic growth. A global agreement to phase down HFCs sooner with an early freeze year and baseline means avoiding harmful HFC emissions that will lead to rise in temperatures, if unchecked.

HFCs can remain in the earth’s atmosphere for decades and have a significant warming impact on climate. Kilo for kilo, most HFCs are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. With temperatures rising to record levels each year, addressing global warming is critical in global efforts on keeping temperature rise under 2 degrees as per the historic Paris Agreement of 2015. HFCs present a significant opportunity to manage this global temperature rise. Recognizing this opportunity, more than 108 parties including India, China, United States and the European Union have shown their support to amend the Montreal Protocol and reach an agreement on a move away from high global warming HFCs. India tabled its own proposal for consideration in April 2015.

HFCs are currently used as refrigerant gases air conditioners, refrigerators and other sectors. Fortunately, most sectors that consume HFCs have the option of moving to low global warming alternatives. The Montreal Protocol amendment can support the transition to more environment friendly alternatives sooner rather than later to make it more affordable in developing countries. The Protocol also allows for a gradual phase down with developed countries going sooner and the developing countries following suit. There is added flexibility, with countries getting the freedom to address sectors where alternatives are already available and exemptions and grace periods for sectors where alternatives are still being developed.

Achieving a strong agreement would be a major win for India and its effort to transition to more modern and environmentally friendly technology. India can lead the developing countries to success in Kigali and secure another historic global climate victory. With the future of our only planet on the line, India can play a crucial role in ensuring that all countries come together to fulfill their responsibility and protect the planet for generations to come. 

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