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Three super wins against super greenhouse gases: Reasons why the US and India should join forces

In his remarks on the US-India Partnership in Mumbai yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States is “anxious and willing” to work with India on climate change. He hopes that “India will join the United States, China and more than 100 other countries to work within the Montreal Protocol to phase- down the production and consumption of HFCs.” As Biden rightly pointed out, the super greenhouse gases hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), primarily used in air conditioning and refrigeration, are major contributors to climate change.

Certainly, the United States, as the largest consumer of these super greenhouse gases, needs to focus on reducing its use of HFCs. However, with explosive growth in air conditioning and refrigeration in India projected over the next few years, India’s HFC emissions are poised to exceed those of the United States. Since HFCs are hundreds and thousands of times more damaging to the global climate than carbon dioxide, more than 100 countries, including the United States, support an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase-down HFCs. India has been one of the few countries opposed to the amendment proposal.

Here are three good reasons why India and the United States should agree to phase-down production and consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol (while accounting of emissions could remain under the UNFCCC) before the next meeting of parties of the Montreal Protocol in Bangkok this November.

1) Diplomatic win: Set a precedent that global climate actions need to be based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and equity

The Montreal Protocol requires developed nations to implement regulations up to 10 years in advance of developing countries, recognizing that developed countries have made a larger historical contribution to ozone depletion and developing countries have a right to continue growing. The Montreal Protocol also allows for flexibility in implementation. Although specific timelines are set for phasing-down a given chemical, the Parties can choose to get rid of these chemicals in a fashion that’s most suitable for their circumstances.

The phase-down of HFCs is the largest, fastest and most cost-effective climate mitigation option currently available. HFCs have a short atmospheric lifetime and a phase-down of HFCs would prevent the release of 2.2 billion tonnes CO2e by 2020 and about 100 billion tonnes CO2e by 2050. That is the same as eliminating annual emissions from more than 600 coal fired power plants by 2020 and about 30,000 coal plants by 2050.

Working together to eliminate these potent greenhouse gases under the Montreal Protocol will mean a diplomatic win for both India and the United States while ensuring that the principles of common but differentiated responsibility and equity are not forgotten.

2) Economic win: Provide technological transfer and funding

The Amendment proposals specifically state that additional money will be provided to the Multilateral Fund (MLF) to pay for the costs incurred by developing countries to eliminate HFCs. Contrary to the arguments that India has made in the past, the MLF is meant to assist developing countries transitioning to safer alternatives. The Montreal Protocol also helps industry replace chemicals and equipment, reorganizing production processes and stimulating the redesign of products. It plays a critical role in helping countries enhance their capacity for developing chemical substitutes and alternative technologies.

The foams sector in India is an example of successful technology transfer via the MLF to phase-out HCFC, another kind of refrigerant that not only damages the ozone layer but also destroys the climate. The MLF also contributed to trainings for small and medium-sized enterprises, and provided additional funding for safety testing. In total, India received $23 million from the MLF to aid in this transition.

3) Domestic win: Incentivize use of more environmentally-friendly alternatives

A partnership to phase-down HFCs between these two technology giants will open the US market to innovative alternative technologies from India. It will also put India’s alternatives industry at the forefront of the next generation of refrigerants on a par with China. This will allow India to control its own refrigeration and air conditioning market thereby reducing India’s reliance on imported patent-protected refrigerants. Simultaneously, it will help the United States to reduce its reliance on HFCs. More importantly, it will prevent India from converting into a dead-end technology that will eventually have to be phased-out again.