India Reverses Stance on Potent Greenhouse Gases Ahead of Talks

India, in a surprising about-face, proposed to amend a protocol to accelerate the phase-out of some of the planet’s most potent greenhouse gases used in refrigerators, automobiles and air conditioners.

The submission to revise the 1989 Montreal Protocol was filed ahead of negotiations in Bangkok starting April 22, according to documents posted by conference organizers on the United Nations Environment Programme website. In the past, India has been among the biggest opponents to halting the use of hydrofluorocarbons.

The proposal is a “stunning evolution” in India’s position since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office last year, said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Washington-based Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

“Modi is emerging as a leading climate voice on the global stage, and the India HFC proposal is concrete evidence of both his conviction and his sophistication,” Zaelke said in an e-mail.

While hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, are as much as 11,700 times more potent in warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, efforts to address them have been stalled by log-jammed United Nations climate-treaty talks. India joins the U.S., Canada and others in pushing for a faster phase-out by bringing the gases under the Montreal deal, originally designed to protect the ozone layer rather than the climate.

Wrong Treaty

India had previously blocked proposed amendments to the protocol saying it was the wrong treaty to bring about changes. A quicker phase-out would give developing nations including India less time to find economic alternatives, vital for air conditioners in hot climates. Also, India is home to major HFC producers, including SRF Ltd., Gujarat Fluorochemicals Ltd., Navin Fluorine International Ltd. and Chemplast Sanmar Ltd., which in the past have earned at least $800 million worth of carbon credits for limiting emissions of the gases.

Modi, who swept to power last May, has sought to shed India’s image as a climate obstructionist, telling his top advisers in January that the nation needs a more constructive image. Since then, he has boosted India’s clean-energy targets and won a promise for solar financing from U.S. President Barack Obama. This week, Modi struck a uranium-supply deal in Canada saying that nuclear power, though expensive, was necessary to “save the world from global warming.”

In its proposal, India called for the “expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol” to be used to phase out production and consumption of HFCs. However, it said the gases should still be accounted for and reported as a part of any UN climate treaty.

A UN report in October said the transition away from HFCs may cost developing nations between $500 million and $3.2 billion, depending on how quickly new cooling technology is adopted. To win support globally, the U.S. and other developed nations are promising $508 million in aid over three years to help poorer countries make the switch.

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