Environment

Beyond the Spin, Here Are India’s Gains and Losses at the Montreal Protocol Negotiations

India won some and suffered some economically consequential losses at the Montreal Protocol negotiations in Kigali, Rwanda to phase down climate-changing refrigerant gases

US secretary of state John Kerry shakes hands with India's minister of environment, forests and climate change Anil Madhav Dave before holding bilateral meeting to promote U.S. climate and environmental goals, at the meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol on the elimination of hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) use in Rwanda's capital Kigali October 14, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/James Akena

US secretary of state John Kerry shakes hands with India’s minister of environment, forests and climate change Anil Madhav Dave before holding bilateral meeting to promote U.S. climate and environmental goals, at the meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol on the elimination of hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) use in Rwanda’s capital Kigali October 14, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/James Akena

New Delhi: The 197 countries that are party to the Montreal Protocol reached a compromise agreement in Kigali, Rwanda on Saturday morning to phase down climate-impacting refrigerant gases.

The compromise was arrived at after seven years of negotiations. Under the compromise stitched up, developed countries will start to phase down the climate impacting family of refrigerant gases called HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) by 2019. Most developing countries, including China, will subsequently follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024 and subsequently reduce the usage. Some countries, including India, bargained to get the peak consumption year pegged to 2028, gaining an four extra years.

Developed countries would have to reduce their usage of these chemicals by 2036 to 85% below 2011-2013 levels. Countries that freeze consumption in 2024 will bring down their use of the harmful refrigerants to 80% below 2020-22 levels by 2045. Countries such as India would be required to reduce the usage by 85% below 2024-26 levels by 2047.

The Union environment, forests and climate change minister Anil Madhav Dave said in a media release from Kigali, “We were flexible, accommodative and ambitious. The world is one family and as a responsible member of the global family, we played our part to support and nurture this agreement.”

These refrigerant gases are short-lived in the atmosphere but cause substantially higher heating of the atmosphere per unit than carbon dioxide. Emanating from a few easily identifiable sources, they are relatively easier to regulate as compared to carbon dioxide, which requires economy-wide transformation to check fossil fuel burning. The future greenhouse gas emissions avoided through the Montreal Protocol will be a top-up on the reductions the world achieves in future through the Paris Agreement, but accounted under it against the respective country’s emissions inventory.

India went to Kigali having lost negotiating ground at the talks for several years in a row. It was hemmed in by the mutual political decision between the United States and India that the agreement would be reached at all costs in 2016, and constrained by the loss of allies across developing countries over time because of the unpredictability of its stance.

In Kigali, it tried to regain lost ground and made a bold offer of flexibility at the beginning of the meeting. This won it a handful but critical mass of allies among developing countries. It made counter-demands of greater action by rich countries as a negotiating tactic, which, towards the end, worked partly in its favour.

Environment secretary Ajay Narayan Jha said in a media release, “We arrived in Kigali with an open mind and a sense of accommodation to get the best deal for India, for the developing countries and for the world. We have achieved that.”

India wanted the freeze year to be set at 2030 and the baseline for calculating future emission reductions be set at 2027-28. It wanted the US and other developed countries to undertake deeper reductions that would reduce costs of the replacement gases and attendant technologies by the time India came on board. It also wanted that full costs be paid for the technology shift instead of incremental operating costs, which have been provided previously under the protocol.

It was not able to bargain for the 2030 as the freeze year and had to settle for 2028. The consequence, in terms of costs to the Indian industry and economy, would be much higher than what the two year difference suggests, an official explained.

“By 2028, many of the patents on costly alternatives are to expire. So, we wanted 2030 to be the freeze year. The two years in between would have given us the chance to figure out cheaper new technological options rather than their patented technologies that would have taken root by 2028,” he said.

“The risk is that the developed countries will start producing goods, applications and technologies that can only use the gases their companies produce. It shall force developing countries to do so as well regardless of what the agreement reads. We have to watch out for that,” he added. “Now, I guess our hope is that recently launched research programme for alternatives in the refrigeration sector comes good in the time we have,” he said.

India was also unable to convince the US and other developing countries to speed up their action and achieve reductions in use of dirty refrigerants faster than they had earlier proposed. But the US made a very marginal change to its road map for action. Instead of achieving 70% reduction in use of dirty refrigerants by 2030 it will now achieve the target by 2029. India had demanded it should do so by 2025.

India’s demand that developed countries pay the full cost of transition to the country’s refrigeration industry was also not met. Though, the language of the agreement does leave scope for a better financial deal than has been previously achieved. The details of how the costs are calculated will be argued over the coming years.

“In practice, under the Montreal Protocol, developing countries get compensated for only a part of the intellectual property and other transition costs. There was little hope of securing a deal that provides full costs, but it’s somewhat better than the previous arrangement,” said another official involved in the negotiations.

Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, CSE said, “India went with a clear strategy and a proactive agenda to enhance the overall environmental ambition of the deal and to protect the nation’s economic interests. The amendment finally agreed to not only protects India’s economic interests, but also doubles the climate benefit compared to the previous Indian proposal. It will avoid HFC emissions equivalent to 70 billion tonne of CO2.”

GLOBAL STANDPOINT

  • 197 countries agree to phase down use of HFC gases as refrigerant gases. The gases cause climate change
  • Starting 2019, developed countries will reduce use of HFCs achieving 85% reduction below 2011-13 levels by 2036
  • Most developing countries will cap use of HFCs by 2024 and reduce to 80% below 2020-22 levels by 2045
  • India and some other developing countries will cap use of HFCs by 2028 and reduce to 85% below 2024-26 levels by 2047

INDIA’S GAINS

  • As a country where air-conditioning and refrigeration is yet to become pervasive, it gained an extra four years to start the transition
  • Indian industry could get higher incremental costs than those agreed to for earlier technology shifts

INDIA’S LOSSES

  • Unable to get developed countries to take deeper commitments to drive technology costs further down
  • Could not get 2030 as freeze year that would have given it critical two years after expiry of patents to develop cheaper technology options
  • Could not secure language for payment of full costs of technology transition by Indian refrigeration industry

By arrangement with Business Standard