Less than a year after 191 countries inked the Paris pact to curb carbon dioxide emissions, the world has made another major advance in the battle against climate change. On October 15, at the Rwandan capital of Kigali, 197 countries arrived at an accord to phase out a planet-warming chemical used in air conditioners and refrigerators. The agreement amends the Montreal Protocol of 1989 to allow it to eliminate HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons). These gases comprise a small part of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere and do not harm the ozone layer. But their heat-trapping capacity is more than a thousand times that of carbon dioxide, making HFCs far more destructive to the climate than the more well-known GHG.
The Kigali accord divides the world into three groups. The richest countries, including the US and European Union nations, will freeze the production and consumption of HFCs by 2018 and reduce their use to about 15 per cent of 2012 levels by 2036. A group of developing countries, including China, Brazil and South Africa, are mandated to freeze HFC use by 2024 and reduce it to 20 per cent of their average value in 2020-22 by 2045. India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and oil economies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will have the most lenient schedule. They will freeze HFC use by 2028 and reduce it to about 15 per cent of 2025 levels by 2047. This phase-out will avert the equivalent of about 70 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. This is less than what the developed country negotiators had aimed at. A loose coalition of the US and some European countries had pushed for a plan that would have frozen HFC use by 2021 and reduced its use to 15 per cent of 2012 by 2046. That plan would have eliminated the equivalent of about 90 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution by 2050. But they were stalled by a small group comprising India, Pakistan and a few West Asian countries.
India’s refrigeration and air conditioning industry should not see the lenient schedule negotiated by the country as a reprieve; it should be a wake-up call for them. In 2011, the EU banned the use of HFCs in cars and is phasing out the chemical in other industries. Industries in the US have started replacing CFCs with climate-friendly refrigerants. More significantly, at Kigali, China, Brazil and South Africa, India’s peers on most environmental compacts parted with their traditional ally by opting for the middle-level phase-out schedule. If this is not signal enough of India’s isolation, the country’s policymakers should note that many of the hottest and poorest countries, including the entire African bloc, also broke ranks with India by not opting for the most lenient timetable.