Lok Sabha TV- Public Forum: Saving the Ozone
India has asked its industries to urgently and immediately destroy the most dangerous of all greenhouse gases HFC-23 also known as trifluoromethane. It is produced during the manufacture of common refrigerant gas called HCFC-22 and is seen as the worst culprit in the planet warming hydrofluorocarbon family. The announcement has come at a critical time as different governments of the world seek to finalize a global agreement under the Montreal Protocol to phase down all hydrofluorocarbons. India has estimated that this action will prevent nearly half a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from entering into atmosphere in the next 15 years. The hydrofluorocarbon elimination before the year 2050 is estimated to prevent about 0.5 degree Celsius rise in the average global temperatures by the year 2100 which will help the temperatures to be less than 2 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial times.
HFC- 23 is a gas with an atmospheric life of 222 years and a heat trapping capacity which is 14800 times more than carbon dioxide. At present, there are 5 registered enterprises that produce HCFC 22 in India. In the past, Indian companies destroyed HFC-23 as a part of the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. These efforts were financed by Carbon Emission Reduction Credits. However, once the financial benefits came to an end, many manufacturers ceased to incinerate HFC-23. The Environment Ministry’s order now stresses on complete elimination of the gas while noting that some of the HCFC-22 producers even in developed world are not handling the HFCs in the most professional manner.
This decision has come at a time when India is facing a pressure to agree to an early timeline for phasing out HFCs; a set of 19 gases used commonly in air conditioning and refrigeration industries. Many countries met in Kigali, Rwanda to finalize a global phase out of these gases in the next 30-40 years based on Montreal Protocol. India is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, USA and EU as a whole.
Montreal Protocol Meet
- Montreal Protocol was agreed on 16thSeptember 1987 and entered into force on 1st January 1989 to protect ozone layer
- Rwanda hosted 28thmeeting of parties to Montreal Protocol and it opened in Kigali on 10th October 2016 to thrash out agreement for phasing out HFCs
- Meeting held in Africa for first time with participation of envoys from 200 nations
This is a very crucial meet both as a precursor to the climate negotiations that are to be followed very soon and the fact that India is seen to be a key player in Kigali because USA and China have indicated their reduction schedule while India has not done that yet. Around 95% of the USA’s population is using refrigerators and air conditioners, the number is 2/3rd for China’s population and for India it is 1/5th of the total population. Therefore, a later phase out date for India might be legitimate although this is something that India should have done a couple of years ago. A transition to cleaner options is very costly at the moment for India. Private sector has patents for those options and applications which can help India in capacity building. If India has to transit, the developed world has to help it monetarily which is not being done now. If India starts working on this option, the prices of the technology will fall, adoption of these technologies will be faster and it would be showing way to developing countries. This would benefit the society as a whole. At present, it is important that the present polluters check themselves before asking the future polluters to pay.
The industries in India are still trying to grapple with what will happen after Paris Agreement comes into application in 2020 like the level of transparency to be maintained, cutting on emissions etc. Basically, this is a period for preparation. Voluntary actions like CSR, carbon exchange programmes are not of much worth. After 2020, the Indian Government will have to take stiff action on some industries and it will have to expand its programme to check the intensity of emission from the industries like railways, real estate etc. Municipalities control real estate sector at present. A central law on this will be a challenge as the more deregulated a sector is, the more difficult it is to have a centralized environmental standard for it. At the same time, medium and small scale industries have to be protected from facing too much trouble as they cannot pay much and it is there our people get employment. A protection zone has to be created for them.
The solar target of 100 GW is something where India might falter at. The overall emission targets set by India should be achievable with relative ease because if USA walks out of the Paris Agreement, there are chances that the entire burden might fall on countries like India.
Montreal Protocol is considered to be one of the most successful and simple environment agreements because it does not require basic changes in the economy or society. It says that instead of using substance. A in refrigeration, substance B should be used. But the Climate Treaty is just the opposite as it requires huge transformation. CFCs are substances which do not occur in nature so they don’t get absorbed by nature. Ammonia can be used as an alternative. It is high time that use of non-patented technology is taken to the forefront. A political will in this regard can make a substantial difference.