In a major development in the ongoing negotiations in Kigali in Rwanda to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), Indian Minister for Environment Anil Dave announced measures to control the emissions of trifluoromethane (HFC-23), a super greenhouse gas.
Declaring that India has taken the lead on climate issues, he told IANS: “We are going ahead for releasing the order for incinerating the HFC-23 by-products of HCFC-22 gas.”
HFC-23 is released as a by-product during the manufacturing of a commonly used refrigerant gas, chlorodifluoromethane (HCFC-22). The global warming potential of HFC-23 is 14,800 times more than that of CO2, making it an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
The Minister said in a statement that the companies will have to internalise the cost of this environmental externality, take care of downtime and run the incinerators to ensure that HFC-23 is not released in the atmosphere.
“This is an excellent step for India, showing their commitment on climate change. They are taking a significant step on climate, in a cost-effective way. HFC-23 is a dangerous chemical by-product and we are looking to all countries, including India, to translate domestic leadership into strong and ambitious international action on reaching an agreement on phasing down HFCs too,” Nehmat Kaur, India Consultant with Natural Resources Defence Council, said.
The decision requires five Indian companies which manufacture HCFC-22 to capture and then incinerate HFC-23 so that its release into the atmosphere is eliminated, an Indian official, who is part of the negotiations, said.
This will potentially avoid emissions of HFC-23 equivalent to 100 million tonnes of CO2 over the next 15 years, he said.
“With this, an order to control the emission of HFC-23, India is sending a strong signal to the world that it is serious about the climate change issue,” said Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in a statement.
“The announcement on destruction of harmful HFC-23 by-product is a very welcome announcement by the Indian government. It reflects India’s commitment to phasing down use of these potent global warming gases and sets the stage for a strong amendment to Montreal Protocol, which is within reach this week,” said Bhaskar Deol, India’s representative with the Natural Resources Defence Council.
At the Kigali meeting, where final negotiations are taking place to reduce the use of HFCs, chemical industry lobbies have been trying hard to make developed countries pay for the incineration of HFC-23.
With this decision, however, India has announced to the world that it will control the emissions of HFC-23 on its own — without any financial support from developed countries.
Five Indian companies, along with 19 other companies which are mainly in China, have received funds and set up incinerators under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
During 2007-2013, they destroyed the gas and sold the carbon credits to developed countries under CDM. For every tonne of HFC-23 destroyed, they earned 14,800 carbon credits which translated into billions of dollars.
Once the CDM mechanism was discontinued, these companies had no incentives to destroy HFC-23.
Since the collapse of the CDM market, the levels of HFC-23 in the atmosphere have increased. This indicates that some of the HCFC-22 industries are releasing HFC-23.
Estimates show that if all the HCFC-22 manufacturing units in the world do not destroy HFC-23, then they will emit more than two billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent of HFC-23 into the atmosphere by 2020.
Most of this release will happen in China. However, the decision by India now ensures that the Indian companies will operate the incinerators and destroy HFC-23.
“Asking for money to destroy HFC-23, when these companies have made so much money from it in the past, is unfair. By enacting a law to make it mandatory for the companies to destroy HFCs, India has demonstrated leadership in dealing with HFC issue. Other developing countries should also follow suit,” said Bhushan.
At present, the 28th meeting of the Parties to the 1989 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is underway in the Rwandan capital till October 14 to freeze an agreement as early as possible to eventually eliminate the use of HFCs.
Indian Union Minister for Environment Anil Dave is among the Ministers from nearly 40 countries, mainly the developing, to hold negotiations.
One group of countries, including China, seems to favour average HFC consumption during 2020-22 as the baseline.
Another group, that includes India, seems to opt for average HFC consumption during 2024-26 as the baseline, said an official.
In a landmark decision in November last, the 197 Parties of the Montreal Protocol agreed to the “Dubai Pathway on HFCs” which commits the 197 Parties to “work within the Montreal Protocol to an HFC amendment in 2016 by first resolving challenges by generating solutions in the contact group on the feasibility and ways of managing HFCs”.