India Blocks Talks to Cut Greenhouse Gases Using Ozone Treaty

India is blocking an international plan to reduce the polluting gases used in air conditioners and refrigerators, saying negotiators are trying to use the wrong treaty to bring about changes.

International envoys have sought to bypass log-jammed United Nations climate-treaty talks by handing responsibility for reducing hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, to the Montreal Protocol. That’s an instrument designed to protect the ozone layer rather than the climate.

India’s envoys tried to strike proposed amendments to the protocol from the agenda of a week-long meeting in Bangkok, according to David Doniger, a policy director at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council. After failing to do so, they’ve blocked formal talks on two planned amendments, allowing only informal discussions on how to manage the gases, he said.

HFCs are as much as 11,700 times more potent in warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Nations including the U.S. have proposed to amend the Montreal accord to include HFC reduction, sidestepping the UN climate-treaty talks. A quicker phase-out of the gases under the Montreal deal would give India less time to find economic alternatives, vital for air conditioners in hot countries.

“Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s commitment, with other world leaders, to use the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFC production, India’s negotiators in Bangkok are the strongest obstacle to moving forward with HFC curbs,” Doniger said today in an e-mail. The meeting runs through Oct. 25.

Arumugam Duraisamy, director of the ozone group at India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking comment and his mobile phone was switched off.

Honeywell, DuPont

While HFCs don’t deplete ozone, they’re substitutes for the chloroflorocarbons, or CFCs, that the Montreal Protocol has been successful in curtailing. They’re made by companies including Honeywell International Inc. and DuPont Co. in a $4 billion global refrigerant industry.

At present, HFCs are regulated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. G-20 members, including India, signed a declaration in St. Petersburg on Sept. 6 supporting use of the Montreal Protocol to curb the gases. U.S. President Barack Obama and India’s Singh issued a statement later that month agreeing to discuss using the treaty.

“Why are India’s negotiators out of line with the commitments of their prime minister?,” Doniger said.

The G-20 stance and the alignment of Obama and Singh raised the prospect India was ending its opposition to using the Montreal accord. Instead, it’s maintaining the position it has had for the past five years, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director-general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, said today by phone. “It’s not going to accept amendments.”

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.

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