Although it took seven years to come to fruition, the Kigali agreement to amend the Montreal Protocol and substantially limit the emission of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that contribute to global warming represents major progress. The important role played by this group of chemicals, used in refrigeration and air conditioning, is evident from the scientific estimate that without a mitigation plan, HFCs could warm the world by an additional half a degree Celsius by the end of the century. As with other such global compacts on environmental matters, India pressed for a more lenient deadline at the Rwanda negotiations. Ultimately, it agreed to start freezing HFC use in 2028, four years later than its peer club countries China, Brazil and those in Africa, and achieving maximum reduction by 2047, two years after they do. In welcome contrast, however, India has ordered the manufacturers of HFC 23 — a by-product of another chemical used in refrigerant gas manufacture and with a staggeringly high contribution to global warming — to now capture and dispose of it at their own cost. The decision is of particular significance, considering the expansion of refrigeration and air conditioning in India with a rise in incomes, leading to higher levels of HFC release into the atmosphere.
One of the questions before India in its implementation of Montreal Protocol commitments is the need to align its goals for ‘Make in India’ with green technologies in order to remain competitive in global markets. Inducting alternatives to HFCs, such as hydrocarbons, ammonia and carbon dioxide, in the relevant industries should happen sooner than anticipated and possibly become even attractive as the cost of technologies falls. The changeover is actually an opportunity to achieve a leapfrog effect. The imperative, in any case, should be environmental. It is worth recalling that the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer adopted in 1985 (operationalised later by the Montreal Protocol) followed a phase when major producers of chlorofluorocarbons, the earlier generation of refrigerants, tried to discredit the link between the chemicals and the developing problem of the ozone hole. Persistent and credible science, however, swayed public and political opinion in favour of a phase-out of CFCs. As with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is strengthened by the Kigali amendments, developing countries will legitimately expect rich countries to aid them as they seek to acquire green technologies for industrial use. Given the impact of global warming, countries and people who have historically never been part of the problem should not have to argue their case for liberal assistance.