After a relatively quiet first half of the week, during which little forward movement was made, the Kigali meeting of the Montreal Protocol is welcoming ministers from across the world Thursday in a bid to get an ambitious agreement on the phase-out of planet-warming HFCs, a set of gases that are used extensively in the air-conditioning and refrigerant industry.
The last two days of the meeting involves negotiations at the ministerial level and it is in Kigali that a breakthrough is being expected. US Secretary of State John Kerry is arriving in Kigali on Friday, the last day of the meeting, to be present when the countries, hopefully, announce yet another landmark agreement to fight climate change, something that the Barack Obama administration is extremely keen to sign off its term with.
But before that, it would be the Indian Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave who would decide how big the celebrations on Friday night, or Saturday, could be. India, which has a fast-growing air-conditioning and refrigerant industry, is the only major country to be still holding back from committing itself to early restrictions on HFC (hydrofluorocarbons) production and consumption. India wants its industry to be allowed to grow unhindered for another ten years, before it starts making the HFC-reductions. Other developing countries, including China, do not mind a faster time-line, beginning from 2020 or 2022.
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“India is the kingmaker here. It is the most crucial player right now,” said Durwood Zaelke, founder and president of Washington-based Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.
Though a relatively small contributor to global warming overall, accounting for about 5 per cent of total greenhouse gases, the use of HFCs is growing at about ten per cent annually. If left unabated, these are estimated to account for 19 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. But more importantly, the phase-out of HFCs by the year 2050 is estimated to prevent at least 0.5 degree of warming by the year 2100. Since this can be achieved by regulating a small group of industries, HFC phase-out is seen as a low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change.
In Kigali, countries are trying to finalise an amendment to the 1989 ozone-saving Montreal Protocol to enable it to monitor the phase-out of HFCs, which are not ozone-depleting. Montreal Protocol has been a highly successful international arrangement, having already phased-out more than 95 per cent of the ozone-depleting substances, its main mandate, in the less than 30 years of its existence.
While everyone wants the Protocol to be amended, countries differ over the phase-down schedule for the HFCs. Developed countries have an early phase-down schedule, but there are disagreements over when the developing countries should start their phase-out.
Countries have to decide on a baseline year, against which their future reductions would be measured. It is proposed that the developed world consider the average production and consumption in the years 2011-2013 as their baseline and reduce their HFC use by at least 10 per cent by the year 2019 from that value. India has been proposing 2024-2026 as the baseline years for developing countries like itself, but there are others who want this to be 2020-2022. China, and many other developing countries, agree to the 2020-2022 baseline, leading to fears that India might be completely isolated.
The later the baseline years, the more time industry gets to make a switch from the HFCs to cleaner alternatives.