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India Rejects U.S. Plan to Use Ozone Treaty to Cut HFCs

India opposed using the Montreal Protocol ozone-protection treaty to restrict powerful greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons, pouring cold water on efforts by the U.S. and the European Union.

“It’s honestly beyond me how a non-ozone depleting substance like HFCs can be taken into the Montreal Protocol, which deals only with ozone-depleting substances,” Indian Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan told envoys at United Nations climate talks in Warsaw today. “We are unable to fathom what prevents addressing this issue” under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

U.S. and EU envoys have suggested using the ozone treaty to pare back the gases. That would bypass slow-moving UN climate talks, which often deadlock on unrelated issues. The gases are made by companies including Honeywell International Inc. and DuPont Co. in a $4 billion global refrigerant industry.

Tackling HFCs is important because the gases are up to 11,700 more powerful agents of global warming than carbon dioxide, according to the UN. Phasing them down has the potential to slash 90 billion tons of greenhouse gases through 2050, said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy on climate change. That’s almost two years of greenhouse-gas output at current levels.

“The Montreal Protocol is made for this kind of task,” Stern said today. “It’s what it does, It phases down industrial chemicals. Let’s start making progress here instead of making excuses.”

Environmental Success

The Montreal Protocol, touted as the most successful environmental treaty, was rolled out in 1987 to eliminate the use of CFCs, once a mainstay of air conditioners, refrigerants and aerosols. Ratified by all nations, it has cut CFCs and other regulated chemicals by 98 percent, replacing them with HFCs.

India also blocked discussions on the proposed transfer of responsibility at talks of the Montreal Protocol last month. The opposition contradicts a Sept. 6 declaration in St. Petersburg by G-20 members, including India, supporting use of the Montreal Protocol to curb the gases. U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh issued a statement later that month agreeing to discuss using the treaty.

“The transfer of mandate of phasedown of HFCs is simply not possible unless we have complete clarity on identified substitutes, costs, safety and economic feasibility,” Natarajan said. “It will very adversely impact our people and our countries.”

While HFCs don’t deplete ozone, they’re substitutes for the chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which the Montreal Protocol has been successful in curtailing. The EU estimates that while HFCs make up about 1 percent of greenhouse gases now, they may account for more than 20 percent by 2050, and the 28-nation bloc is also pushing to regulate them under the ozone deal.

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