The Union Cabinet has recently ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on materials that deplete the ozone layer.
The Amendment that was approved on Wednesday aims to phase-down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by restraining their production and consumption.
What are Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)?
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are organic man-made compounds that contain fluorine and hydrogen atoms, used primarily for cooling & refrigeration.
HFCs were developed to replace stratospheric ozone-depleting substances like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), halons, methyl bromide, carbon tetrachloride, hydrobromofluorocarbons, chlorobromomethane, and methyl chloroform.
However, HFCs too are powerful greenhouse gases that can survive in the atmosphere for 15-29 years, causing pollution and climate change.
How are HFCs, CFCs and HCFs harmful for the environment?
Currently, HFCs represent only around 1% of total greenhouse gases, yet, their impact on global warming can be hundreds to thousands of times greater than that of carbon dioxide per unit of mass. Further, what’s more concerning is the fact that it significantly depletes the ozone layer.
Organic man-made compounds like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons destroy the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) of the ozone.
The ozone layer is the life-shielding layer that makes life on Earth possible by protecting it from the harmful ultraviolet (UV-B) rays of the sun. The depletion of this layer results in potential harm to human health and the environment.
It is responsible for:
– Increased likelihood of skin cancer & cataracts
– Damage to immune system
– Damage to aquatic & terrestrial plant life
– Increased formation of ground-level ozone
Catalyst for climate change:
In addition to depleting the Earth’s stratospheric Ozone layer, CFCs & HCFCs are also responsible for trapping heat in the lower atmosphere, causing it to warm rapidly.
Originally developed to replace CFCs and HCFCs, HFCs absorb and trap infrared radiation or heat in the lower atmosphere of the earth.
HCFs, CFCs and HFCs collectively contribute to around 11.5% of the present-day effect of green house gases on climate change. Cumulatively, greenhouse gases are expected to warm the planet by 2.5 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of century.
Montreal Protocol (1987):
The Montreal Protocol introduced in 1987 is one of the most successful International environmental treaties in the world.
Since its adoption, the protocol has encouraged countries to phase-out the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances, according to the UNEP.
Kigali Amendment (2019):
The Kigali Amendment that came into force in 2019 requires ratifying countries to reduce the use of HFCs by 80% by 2050. The reduction in HFCs is estimated to reduce the Earth’s average surface warming by 0.5º C over pre-industrial era levels.
India is expected to reduce the use of HFCs by 85%, by the year 2047, starting from 2028.
What it means for India?
India is one of the very first countries in the world to launch a cooling action plan in 2019. The plan launched in 2019 sought to balance economic growth and the need for cooling & refrigerating, while transitioning from HFCs to cleaner gases.
Further, India’s commitment to play a constructive role in climate action is a step towards mitigating the effects of climate change, ahead of the United Nations climate change conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland in October this year.
The most recent development of India’s ratification of the Kigali Amendment brings India to the cusp of universal ratification among the world’s biggest economies.