By Mark W. Roberts and Avipsa Mahapatra
On September 27, U.S. President Barack Obama met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss how to improve ties on a number of issues between the countries, including how to support efforts to phase-down the super greenhouse gases HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons). HFCs, primarily used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing, are extremely harmful to the climate as they are hundreds and thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).
Certainly the United States, as the largest consumer of these super greenhouse gases, needs to focus on reducing its use of HFCs. However, with explosive growth in air conditioning and refrigeration in India projected over the next few years, India’s HFC emissions could also increase exponentially. Building on previous discussions and meetings by high-ranking officials, President Obama and Prime Minister Singh plan to convene the India-U.S. Task Force on HFCs, and “to use complementary multilateral initiatives, such as using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase-down the production and consumption of HFCs.”
India and the United States have a significant economic and strategic partnership, and this agreement will build upon previous agreements to expand innovative technologies to address climate change. We are pleased that both countries recognize the opportunity to take action under the Montreal Protocol that includes alternative technologies to HFCs.
Global support for Montreal Protocol
This historic agreement follows multiple bilateral and multinational agreements that are building towards a global effort to phase-down the consumption and production of HFCs. This includes the breakthrough agreement between President Obama and President Xi of China in June 2013, the recent G-20 communique and the upcoming BASIC statement.
In addition, at the Montreal Protocol meeting in Bangkok in June of this year, the member parties agreed to establish a high-level discussion group on HFC management within the Montreal Protocol framework.
The Montreal Protocol is the most successful international environmental treaty, and is uniquely positioned to adopt and implement a phase-down of HFCs. The Montreal Protocol has universal membership and has phased-out 97 different chemicals responsible for ozone depletion, and is now phasing out the next class of ozone-depleting chemicals HCFCs (hydrochloroflourocarbons) in the exact same industrial sectors that are currently using HFCs. It also has the structures and supports in place so the phase-down of HFCs could start virtually immediately.
Looking ahead to Bangkok
The statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Singh adds momentum to the global interest in actions to address HFCs. We hope that this statement will help to establish a formal Contact Group that can specifically address the amendment proposal put forth by Micronesia and North America at the upcoming Montreal Protocol Meeting of Parties in Bangkok. The support for establishing a Contact Group is growing following the statement from United States and China at the G-20 summit.
A phase-down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol could prevent 100 billion metric tons of CO2e by 2050. That is about 300 times the amount of carbon emissions the entire Amazon forest absorbs in a year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the most respected international body of scientists, released its latest summary of climate science that re-emphasized the need to act now to reduce carbon pollution. With concerted effort, the United States and India can work with the 115 countries already committed to a phase-down of the potent climate warmers, called HFCs, under the Montreal Protocol. We will be in Bangkok to ensure that this historic opportunity is not lost.