New Delhi: Nearly 10 months after the world collectively agreed on a historic global climate deal, nearly 200 countries on Saturday struck a new landmark deal at Kigali in Rwanda to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which could prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by year 2100.

The announcement came at Kigali where 197 countries that are party to the Montreal Protocol were trying to negotiate a deal to substantially reduce the use of HFCs by 2030.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol is legally binding and will come into force from 1 January 2019. The Montreal Protocol, which came into force in 1989, is aimed at reducing the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to protect the earth’s fragile ozone layer.

“We were flexible, accommodative and ambitious. The world is one family and as a responsible member of the global family, we played our part to support and nurture this agreement," said India’s minister of environment, forest and climate change Anil Madhav Dave who was leading the negotiations.

The agreement at Kigali came after seven years of negotiations under which the 197 Montreal Protocol parties reached a compromise wherein developed countries will start to phase down HFCs by 2019. Developing countries will follow with a freeze of HFCs consumption levels in 2024, with some countries freezing consumption in 2028. By the late 2040s, all countries are expected to consume no more than 15-20% of their respective baselines. Overall, the agreement is expected to reduce HFC use by 85% by 2045.

As per the agreement, China, which is the largest producer of HFCs in the world, will reduce HFC use by 80% by 2045 over the 2020-22 baseline. India will reduce the use of HFCs by 85% over the 2024-26 baseline.

Commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances, HFCs are currently the world’s fastest growing greenhouse gases, their emissions increasing by up to 10% each year. They are also one of the most powerful, trapping thousands of times more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2).

“The amendment to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the Ozone layer endorsed in Kigali today is the single largest contribution the world has made towards keeping the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at the Paris climate conference last year," said an official statement of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Growth of HFCs has mainly been driven by a growing demand for cooling, particularly in developing countries with a fast-expanding middle class and hot climates. The agreement at Kigali provides for exemptions for countries with high ambient temperatures to phase down HFCs at a slower pace.

Initially, India was not ready to agree on a freeze year but then it showed flexibility. Freeze year is the year in which phase down of HFCs starts. Not only it agreed on freeze year, but also agreed to advance it to 2028 after two rounds of negotiations with US secretary of state John Kerry.

Taking a leadership role at climate change negotiations, India agreed to advance it on a condition that there will be a review of technology somewhere around 2023 or 2024, and if India finds that refrigeration sector is growing at much faster rate and it cannot accommodate within the available refrigerant, then India will free to go to 2030 as freeze year.

Over 190 countries agreed on a new global climate deal at Paris in December last year where they agreed to cut down global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to well below 2 degree Celsius over pre-industrial times and limit it to 1.5 degree Celsius over pre-industrial times.

“Last year in Paris, we promised to keep the world safe from the worst effects of climate change. Today, we are following through on that promise. This is about much more than the ozone layer and HFCs. It is a clear statement by all world leaders that the green transformation started in Paris is irreversible and unstoppable. It shows the best investments are those in clean, efficient technologies," said UN environment chief Erik Solheim.

Interestingly, it is not the first instance of India showing flexibility in climate change negotiations. On Thursday, India had announced that it will eliminate the use of HFC-23, a greenhouse gas that harms the ozone layer, by 2030.

HFC-23, a potent greenhouse gas with global warming potential of 14,800 times more than that of CO2, is a by-product of HCFC-22 (hydrochloroflurocarbon), which is used in industrial refrigeration.

The countries negotiating at Kigali also agreed to provide adequate financing for HFCs reduction—which runs in billions of dollars globally.

The exact amount of additional funding will be agreed at the next meeting of the Parties in Montreal, in 2017.

“Grants for research and development of affordable alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons will be the most immediate priority," the statement said.

The UNEP statement also said that alternatives to HFCs currently being explored include substances that do not deplete the ozone layer and have a smaller impact on the climate, such as ammonia or carbon dioxide.

“Super-efficient, cost-effective cooling technologies are also being developed, which can help protect the climate both through reducing HFCs emissions and by using less energy," the UNEP statement added.

India’s climate change experts too welcomed the move.

“India went with a clear strategy and a proactive agenda to enhance the overall environmental ambition of the deal and to protect the nation’s economic interests. The amendment finally agreed to not only protects India’s economic interests, but also doubles the climate benefit compared to the previous Indian proposal. It will avoid HFC emissions equivalent to 70 billion tonne of CO2," said Chandra Bhushan, who is director general of the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based think-tank working on environmental issues, while praising the Indian negotiating team.

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