India tables proposal to phase down HFCs under Montreal Protocol

24 April 2015

India has tabled a formal proposal to amend the Montreal Protocol, calling for an international phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The document, released on 17 April, sets out different timelines for developed and developing countries to hit a given “plateau” in the production and consumption of the potent greenhouse gas.

New Delhi’s proposal marks a significant shift in approach, given that India had long urged for HFC reduction to be dealt with under the Kyoto Protocol within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which only mandates emissions cuts from so-called developed countries, rather than the Montreal Protocol.

The Indian submission came just days ahead of an open-ended working group meeting of Montreal Protocol parties, scheduled to be held in Bangkok from 22-24 April. The Protocol, which was agreed in 1987 and entered into force in 1989, is an international treaty aimed at protecting the ozone layer through the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances (ODS).

While the Montreal accord has successfully made headway on reducing some 96 ODSs, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), this has resulted partly from the switch to HFCs as an alternative.

HFCs are commonly used in air conditioners, refrigerators, and insulating foam. While they do not have a direct impact on the ozone layer, they nonetheless have severe warming potential, reportedly over a thousand times more severe than that of carbon dioxide.

There is currently no international mechanism for regulating the use of HFCs, though the issue has grown in prominence on the global climate agenda in recent years. It has already been raised repeatedly under discussions to update the Montreal Protocol, with a November meeting of the parties failing to make advances towards establishing a “contact group” to address ways on how to best phase out HFCs. (See BioRes, 27 November 2014)

Timeframe, flexibilities

India’s proposed amendment would require all parties to phase down HFCs to a set level. However, developing countries – referred to as Article 5 parties under the Montreal Protocol – would be given an additional 15 years to do so, in an effort to give domestic industries enough time to find suitable alternatives.

If the amendment is accepted, developing countries would reduce HFC production and consumption to a 15 percent level, relative to a set baseline, by 2050 while developed countries would have until 2035. The “baselines” used to determine these levels would also depend on whether a country is classified under Article 5 or not.

Non-Article 5 parties – in other words, developed countries – would use the production and consumption averages of 2013-2015, with a “freeze” in 2016, as a baseline. Article 5 Parties, by comparison, will use the averages from 2028-2030, with a 2031 freeze.

Furthermore, Article 5 Parties would be allowed flexibility in the choice of alternative, energy-efficient technologies with low warming potential in their efforts to continue transitioning away from HCFCs, though the Indian submission acknowledges that in some cases alternatives for HCFCs with low or zero “global warming potential” (GWP) may not be readily available.

“Recognising that HFCs are alternatives to HCFCs for various applications and there are no low-GWP/zero-GWP non-HFC alternatives for all the applications, it is proposed to continue the use of HFCs and blends of HFCs as transitional substances for phase-out of HCFCs wherever low-GWP/zero-GWP alternatives are not available,” the proposal said.

The proposal also makes suggestions for strengthening the Montreal Protocol’s financial and technology transfer mechanisms to assist developing countries in making their transitions towards cleaner energy.

The US, Canada, and Mexico have jointly tabled their own proposal regarding the phase-down of HFCs, which is also on the agenda for this week’s meeting in Bangkok. The three North American countries have long been proponents of including HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

Like the Indian proposal, it suggests a new “Annex F” featuring various HFCs that would be covered under the Protocol, and similarly suggests setting a target level of 15 percent where HFC production and consumption would “plateau” relative to an established baseline, rather than a full phase-out. However, the US-Canada-Mexico submission uses another calculation to establish baselines for Annex 5 and non-Annex 5 Parties, among other differences.

In addition, this latter proposal suggests including a “technology review provision” under which parties could review progress toward the deployment of climate-friendly alternatives, “as the basis to consider adjustments to the phasedown schedules.”

Paris climate talks

Over 190 countries will convene in Paris later this year at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) to work towards finalising a new global climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. Should any changes be made to the Montreal Protocol regarding HFCs, those could have a potential impact on the UNFCCC process, observers say, though questions remain on how the two agreements would interact.

In its proposal, India said that its Montreal Protocol amendment is “intended to support overall global efforts aimed at climate change protection.” Furthermore, New Delhi said, the suggested changes still foresee HFCs’ inclusion under the UNFCCC’s scope and Kyoto Protocol, in terms of emissions reporting and accounting.

The US-Canada-Mexico proposal also says that it aims to support global climate efforts, while adding that it could be “completed by a related decision by the UNFCCC confirming the Montreal Protocol Approach.” It also does not aim to change those UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol provisions that govern HFC emissions.

Some observers, such as the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development’s Durwood Zaelke, have said that India’s recent move “will build critical momentum for a successful outcome in Paris for the climate negotiations in December, and complement what is expected to be an agreement where all countries participate by pledging to attack climate pollutants at their own pace.”

ICTSD reporting; “India takes ‘significant step’ in HFC decision: U.S. envoy,” REUTERS, 20 April 2015; “India agrees to phase down HFC, seeks more time,” THE TIMES OF INDIA, 18 April 2015; “India embraces HFC phase-out under Montreal Protocol,” THE INDIAN EXPRESS, 18 April 2015.

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