The deal reached between 197 countries in Kigali, Rwanda, last week—on phasing out hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas—represents a leap forward for the planet in terms of tempering climate change. The Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol aims at reducing the usage of HFCs—commonly-used coolants that have a heat-trapping capacity 12,000 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2)—by 85% in the next three decades. The Montreal Protocol had, thus far, been stalled as developing and developed nations failed to reach a consensus on deadlines for phasing out HFCs. Therefore, it is to India’s credit that it played a key role in ushering in the Kigali agreement, even though it had to agree to tougher goals in the process.
To be sure, the Kigali goals could seem skewed in favour of the developed nations. Most of them have already started moving away from HFC-based cooling, and thus the 2019 deadline to freeze consumption and begin tapering should seem like child’s play to them. On the other hand, India, that had long argued for a 2031-freeze-year for the developing world, will now have to freeze consumption by 2028, and reduce usage by 85% over a baseline period of 2024-26 by 2045; China, the largest producer, will have to freeze consumption by 2024 and reduce usage by 80% over a baseline period of 2020-22. However, this doesn’t mean India has completely ceded ground—as per a Mint report, it will be allowed to shift the freeze year to 2030 if, after a technological review in 2023-24, it is found that available HFC-substitutes can’t keep pace with the refrigeration needs of the country. The country may have a lower per capita HFC footprint at present but it has a lot at stake from increasing consumption; a 2015 study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis finds that its HFC emissions could stand at above 500 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2050, with cumulative emissions at 6.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent between 2010 and 2050. Given how India, along with Pakistan and some Gulf nations, mooted the proposal for the staggered deadlines for China and the rest of the developing world, there seems to be the realisation that a business-as-usual scenario could prove far costlier than the prospect of having to freeze HFC consumption earlier than desired.
A study points out that nearly 1.6 billion new AC units will be switched on by 2050—thus, the clock is ticking for the world. India made the wise choice to be flexible; earlier this year, the government even announced a partnership initiative, between government research organisations, industry and civil society, to develop viable alternatives to HFC. Now, it is the turn of the developed world to support developing nations, in terms of funding transition to, and development of, safer alternatives.