It has agreed to discuss issue only at a bilateral level and not under Montreal Protocol

India has decided not to give in to U.S. pressure to agree to discussions on phasing out refrigerant gases under the Montreal Protocol as a precursor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Washington visit. Disagreeing with the U.S. demands, India has agreed to discuss the contentious issue only at a bilateral level and not under the multilateral agreement.

To do so, the Indian government has agreed to set up a Indo-U.S. working group on climate change, which will discuss the issue of refrigerant gases, besides other areas of collaboration and discussions. The joint working group will be headed by Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan on the Indian side, while Todd Stern, Special Envoy on Climate Change, will lead the U.S. team.

The Hindu had reported that the External Affairs and Environment ministries were resisting the pressure tactics of U.S. officials on the issue. U.S. officials had warned Indian negotiators that unless they agreed to opening discussions on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol as part of a ‘contact group’, President Obama would be forced to raise the issue with Dr. Singh personally upon the latter’s visit to Washington. They had informed India that it was not just a political priority for the U.S. administration but also a personal one for President Obama.

Since 2009, India has stood firm that the HFCs — used for refrigeration — should be dealt with like all other greenhouse gases under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. They have contested that the Montreal Protocol is only meant to address ozone-depleting substances and argued that the developed world is keen on pushing costly and not fully tested proprietary technologies to fast growing economies through this route.

But the Indian position was weakened when New Delhi signed the recent G20 communiqué that welcomed bringing mitigation of HFC emissions under the Montreal Protocol.

Despite Mr. Stern’s pressure, India has stood its ground for now, only agreeing to form a bilateral working group. This will keep the red lines drawn by the Union Cabinet for climate negotiations intact for now. With the annual meeting of both the Montreal Protocol and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change slated for November, it remains to be seen how the issue will play out when the government decides on its non-negotiables for these confabulations.

India’s decision not to alter its decision at the moment also became evident when a senior Environment Ministry official clarified matters on Saturday. “An Indo-U.S. Task Force on HFCs has been established and a draft Task Force Report has been prepared. The report is being finalised by addressing the divergent views of India and USA on the basic elements of the report,” said Additional Secretary Susheel Kumar.On the sidelines of an event in Chennai, he told journalists: “The U.S. and some developed countries are pressing for the proposal [to put HFCs under the Montreal Protocol]. But we are holding on to our viewpoint that there is no viable alternative available and all other developing countries have the same view. That’s the stand of the Union Cabinet.”