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Seeds of actions on Climate Change, Is it now India’s moment?


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Secretary of State John Kerry will be in India this week and India should lend its support on priority for HFC phase down under the Montreal Protocol. Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Washington DC later this year can seal the deal to demonstrate that three largest economies of the world working shoulder to shoulder to take action on climate change would be good omen and a strong signal.

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Seeds of actions on Climate Change, Is it now India’s moment?

  1. 1. Seeds of actions on Climate ChangeIs it now India’s moment?ByRajendra ShendeHimalayan tragedy in the State of Uttarakhand and in neighboring area isstark reminder of what Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change hasbeen informing us about the frequency, intensity and uncertainty of itstiming of the extreme weather events. Though the tragedy in Uttarakhandcannot be related directly and only to the climate change, it is wake upcall for India to take wide spectrum of actions to mitigate climate change.Luckily these actions also have important side benefits and are not costly.One of such ready opportunity that India has, is to charter its actionstowards climate-friendly and energy efficient air conditioning andrefrigeration that consumes nearly 40 % of India’s electricity. India’sdependence on fossil fuel to produce and reach such electricity to the useris causing serious blows to its energy planning, its trade balance andemissions of Green House Gases. It is true that India cannot give up itsdependence of the fossil fuel in near future; however, there are win-winstrategies available. One of them is to mitigate the climate change byreducing the use of refrigerant gases of high Global Warming Potential(GWP), replace them with low or zero GWP refrigerant gases and at thesame time leverage the possible energy efficiency advantage ofappliances using alternatives. Indian industry is ready to respond to thisstrategy and Indian government can seize the timing.Two and half decade back, India seized similar opportunity under theMontreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. India’srecord of implementation of the Montreal Protocol, considered as themost successful multilateral environmental agreement by any standard sofar, has been impeccable. It has phased out of the production andconsumption of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other Ozone Depletingsubstances well in time and in some cases even before the time limitsstipulated under the Montreal Protocol.India has also been global leader in giving strategic direction and shapingthe collaborative approaches for the success of the Montreal Protocol. Itsstewardship has played crucial role in formulation, establishment andefficient operation of the Multilateral Fund for the developing countriesthat is now operating for two decades without any financial crunchwhatsoever. But the real ‘win’ under the Montreal Protocol was not justphase out of CFCs, but deriving societal benefits from use of alternativerefrigerant and upgraded technology that made appliances and equipment
  2. 2. more energy efficient. For example, the drive India started in 1990s for a‘CFC-free energy efficient’ refrigerator has paid off. Today, all therefrigerators in Indian market are CFC free and are at least 50% moreenergy efficient. Climate benefit, though unintended, was another huge‘win’ for the Montreal Protocol. As another global benefit that theMontreal Protocol CFCs are also powerful GHGs, by phasing them out,the world could eliminate more than 130 Gigatones of CO2-eq of GHGstill 2010.USA-China Presidential summit in California on June 8, 2013 includedan agreement that was rather non-political and technically complex forthe ‘popular’ press but it is critically important for India to reflect on itseriously and on urgent basis. USA and China, two of the world’s largestconsumer and producers of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)-the powerfulgreen house gases of very high global warming potential, agreed to worktogether on their phase down. This indeed is a critically significant newinitiative by USA and China in response to continually dauntingchallenge of global climate change.Both countries, as per the statement released on 9thJune by the WhiteHouse, Washington DC, ‘ will work together and with other countries touse the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase downthe consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), amongother forms of multilateral cooperation’.Significance of this agreement stems from the facts that a global phasedown of HFCs could potentially reduce about 100 gigatons (Gt) of CO2equivalent by 2050, equal to roughly two years worth of current globalgreenhouse gas emissions and more than the United States emits in anentire decade. This will also avoid 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by theend of the century and make a major contribution to keeping temperatureincreases to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels.Phasing down HFCs will also catalyze energy efficiency improvement inthe air conditioners, refrigerators and other equipment that presently useHFCs, as has been seen in other such technology transitions. Such energyefficiency would provide additional indirect climate benefit bysignificantly reducing CO2 emissions from electricity use.Second, the agreement comes at the time when the scorching andfrustrating details of global warming updates are emerging as time passesby. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached a record peak of400 parts per million on May 9, the highest level in the history for 2.5million years as per National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  3. 3. (NOAA), USA. On June 5, United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) presented in climate meeting in Bonn the widening emission gapbetween what world is aiming for and where it is headed in 2020 in itsambitious efforts to limit the global rise of temperature to 2 degreecentigrade. Such observations by UN body are making the climate-scientists and policy-makers nervous. The gap, as concluded by 43scientific groups from 22 countries, is whooping 8 Gt of CO2 equivalentunder the ‘most ambitious’ scenario and 14 Gt of CO2 equivalent underbusiness as usual. Further, as per report released on June 10 byInternational Energy Agency (IEA), Redrawing Climate-Energy Mapgives stark warning that ‘The path we are currently on is more likely toresult in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C.’ Such risein temperature directs towards disastrous consequence and even collapseof human civilization. Though damaging floods in Uttarakhand cannot bedirectly related to climate change impact, it is early warning of what isexpected in future in terms of the frequency and intensity of extremeweather events, also highlighted in the special report of theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases used in refrigerators, airconditioners, and industrial applications. Their emissions are controlledunder the Kyoto Protocol, which will come to an end in 2015. HFCs donot deplete the ozone layer, and hence their use is growing rapidly asreplacements for ozone-depleting substances that are being successfullyphased out under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete theOzone Layer. Left unabated, HFC emissions growth could grow to nearly20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, a serious climatemitigation concern.For the past four years, the United States, Canada, and Mexico as well asthe Federal States of Micronesia and Morocco have proposed separateamendments to the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production andconsumption of HFCs. These efforts to phase down HFCs are nowsupported by 112 of the 197 countries that are Parties to the MontrealProtocol. The amendments also include financial assistance to cover theincremental cost component for developing countries and leavesunchanged the reporting and accounting provisions of the UN FrameworkConvention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol on HFC emissions.Though majority of the Parties to the Protocol agreed to phase down ofHFCs, India and China have consistently opposed any phase down ofHFCs under the Montreal Protocol for several reasons, one being that theindustries in their countries have adopted to HFCs to eliminate CFCs andwill now be adopting to HFCs to eliminate HCFCs.
  4. 4. The HFC agreement between President Obama and President Xi opensthe door to a significant progress this year to phase down HFCs under theMontreal Protocol. India must still agree, of course, but they have beenshowing greater flexibility this year even before the Chine-US agreement,which now makes the amendment all but inevitable. Reluctance fromIndia risks leaving India on the sidelines as China and the U.S. developtheir special relationship.It is significant that the Obama-Xi agreement really builds on Secretaryof State John Kerry’s earlier efforts in China to form a climate task force.Secretary Kerry also made the HFC phase-down under the MontrealProtocol a priority of his participation in the Arctic Council summit lastmonth, bringing Russia into the growing consensus. This follows thesuccess of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who madesignificant progress in putting the HFC issue on the climate-agendaduring Indo-US bilateral talks in. Ms. Clinton also made phasing downHFCs a key part of the Rio+20 summit declaration, supported by morethan 100 heads of state. Ms. Clinton also made reductions of HFCs partof the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived ClimatePollutants, which she launched in February 2012.Leadership from India to support the HFC agreement would signal thatthe world has entered a new period where the largest emitters, bothdeveloped and developing, are working side by side to address our mostcritical climate issues. While efforts to cut CO2 and other climatepollutants will continue to be a challenge, future generations will view anHFC agreement as a turning point in climate protection, when the worldfinally began to take effective action.Secretary of State John Kerry will be in India this week and India shouldlend its support on priority for HFC phase down under the MontrealProtocol. It would also open the door for another round of discussion athigher level when Indian Prime Minister visits Washington DC later thisyear. Three largest economies of the world working shoulder to shoulderto take action on climate change would be good omen and a strong signal.ENDAuthor: Rajendra Shende is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, Indian think-tank andformer Director, UNEP. He was coordinating lead author of special report of IPCC‘Safeguarding Ozone Layer and Global climate system’ and Steering CommitteeMember of UNEP report on ‘HFCs: A Critical Link in Protecting Climate and theOzone Layer’