Modi gets behind HFC crackdown at US-India meeting

India will cooperate with global efforts to phase out the potent greenhouse gases, says prime minister Narendra Modi 

Obama and Modi head for the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington (Source: White House)

Obama and Modi head for the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington
(Source: White House)

By Megan Darby

The Indian government is set to take on its chemicals industry after prime minister Narendra Modi agreed in Washington yesterday to back a global phase-down of HFCs.

The country had previously resisted efforts to crack down on production of the short-lived but potent greenhouse gases, which are used in fridges and air conditioners.

Following a meeting with US president Barack Obama, Modi agreed to urgently convene a joint taskforce to tackle the problem.

It was one of a number of climate and energy matters the two heads of state promised to work together on.

“We have agreed to consult and cooperate closely on climate change issues, an area of strong priority for both of us,” said Modi through an interpreter in a recorded address at the end of the meeting.

Modi’s four-day US visit included a 19,000-strong rally in Madison Square Gardens, dinner with Obama at the White House and a tour of Washington’s monument to Martin Luther King.

The two leaders both put their names to an op-ed for the Washington Post, affirming their common values of democracy, liberty, diversity and enterprise.

The official reception marked a diplomatic turnabout from ten years ago, when Modi was refused a visa over allegations he had not done enough to stop sectarian riots when governor of Gujarat. Modi has always denied complicity in the violence, in which more than a thousand people died.

Summarising the visit, Obama spoke about the economy, education, international security, trade and science, leaving it to his Indian counterpart to bring up climate change.

A joint statement by officials detailed some specific outcomes on the subject.

The US is to help India build nuclear power plants, ramp up support for renewable energy and boost capacity for adapting to climate change.

There were also nods to forest protection efforts and scientific collaboration.

The US Export-Import Bank offered the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency up to $1 billion of finance towards expanding India’s clean power capacity.

Perhaps the most significant result for global efforts to combat climate change was the move to deal with HFCs.

Analysis: Ozone layer treaty could tackle super polluting HFCs

Introduced as an alternative to CFCs, which were banned for damaging the ozone layer, HFCs represent a small but growing climate threat.

While the gases do not hang around in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, they have a warming effect thousands of times as strong.

The UN estimates if their manufacture is left unchecked, HFCs could account for 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The US, Mexico and Canada have championed phasing out the gases under the same treaty, the Montreal Protocol, that got rid of CFCs.

But India, which is home to a chemical sector that makes HFCs, has been reluctant to agree.

Yesterday’s statement was the clearest indication to date the Indian government is softening its stance.

The Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development researches and campaigns for action on short-lived climate pollutants.

“The phase down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol is the biggest, fastest and most secure climate mitigation available in the near term through 2020,” said IGSD president Durwood Zaelke.

The announcement “shows that prime minister Modi and president Obama see the potential and are moving forward to capture it”.


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