Cooling the planet: Cutting HFC-use good; new challenges to ozone emerging

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August 31, 2021 3:45 AM

HFCs are not ozone-depleting, but carry catastrophic warming potential, given they are almost a thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide.

There is a boom in space-related activity in the coming years, including launches.There is a boom in space-related activity in the coming years, including launches.

India will now enter the 26th Conference of Parties—scheduled in November at Glasgow—on a strong climate-leadership footing, having ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on August 19. While the Montreal Protocol, viewed as one of the most successful international treaties, seeks to bring down use of chemicals depleting the planet’s stratospheric-ozone, the Kigali Amendment that was adopted globally in 2016, and became effective in 2019, aims to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

HFCs are not ozone-depleting, but carry catastrophic warming potential, given they are almost a thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide. The Kigali Amendment tasks industrialised nations to cut production and use of HFCs by 85% of the 2011-2013 levels by 2036, while one group of developing nations including China, Brazil and South Africa, will need to cut by 80% from 2020-22 levels by 2045 and another including India and Iran will need to cut 85% from 2024-26 levels by 2047. As per official estimates, the pathway will help cut 0.5oC of warming by 2100.

The Amendment is certainly ambitious, given HFC usage in cooling and refrigeration vis-a-vis the growing need for these with climate-change making intense heatwaves more frequent than ever before.

Given the Kigali Amendment makes HFC reduction legally-binding on parties ratifying it, India has committed to chalk out a national phase-out strategy by 2023 and embed it into its legal framework by 2024. India has assumed a leadership role in ozone action under the Montreal Protocol, and its ratification of the Amendment presents a plethora of opportunities, especially in manufacturing of low warming potential (LWP) refrigerant manufacturing and related innovation.

The fact that the country came out with a Cooling Action Plan in 2019, and set targets for reducing and offsetting the climate-threatening (and otherwise planet harming) effects of cooling and refrigeration is evidence of exemplary climate responsibility. For perspective, there is a vast unmet cooling need in the country—expected to grow eight times by 2037, from 2017 levels—which means, with the ratification, it commits to meet this sustainably.

India is also one of the very few nations whose climate commitments put it on the path to pulling its weight to keep warming under 2oC by 2100. Developed nations that have shirked responsibility on climate action, despite the global celebration of their ‘ambitious’ action, need to take note.

Beyond the Montreal Protocol, as it exists now, the world needs to act on many ozone-damaging emissions. Anthropogenic emission of nitrous oxide plays a significant role in stratospheric ozone depletion directly and by moderating depletion by chlorinated chemicals. Also, space exploration poses a significant threat to the ozone layer that had begun healing from historical depletion following action under the Montreal Protocol.

There is a boom in space-related activity in the coming years, including launches. With countries liberalising entry into the space sector for private players—there is considerable interest, gauging from the plans set in motion by SpaceX, Virgin, and Blue Origin—the Earth’s ozone face newer threats. Countries need to develop a Montreal-like consensus on battling these proactively.

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