Make polluters pay
India should urgently enact a law to curb HFC-23 emissions. This will help the government gain a foothold at international negotiation platforms RAKESH KAMAL | NEW DELHI
COUNTRIES ARE negotiating a treaty to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons ( hfcs) under the aegies of the Montreal Protocol. Under the protocol, which was adopted in the early 1990s to eliminate the use of ozone-depleting chemicals, the world aims to phase out over 100 chemicals. So far, countries have phased out chlorofluorocarbons ( cfcs) that were used as a refrigerant.
Chlorodifluoromethane ( hcfc- 22) that is part of hydrochlorofluorocarbon group of chemicals (hcfcs) was the main replacement for cfcs and is used as a common refrigerant in India. But hcfc-22 is a moderately ozone-depleting gas and is being phased out under the Montreal Protocol. While developed countries have achieved the target, developing countries like India will have to stop using hcfcs by 2030. India has put in place a law to curb the use of hcfcs in a phased manner. But there is no law to curb the emission of trifluoromethane ( hfc- 23), released during its production. Though hfc- 23 does not harm the ozone layer, its global warming potential is 14,800 times more than that of CO . 2
Developed countries have replaced hcfcs with hfcs and developing countries are following suit. But given the concerns over climate change, countries now plan to phase down the use of hfcs as well. It is in this context hfc-23 is being discussed under the Montreal Protocol. As of now, hfc23 has no use and it is being destroyed or emitted as a waste product.
In India, five fluorochemical companies manufacture hcfc- 22. They have incinerators to destroy hfc-23, which they had procured under the Clean Development Mechanism ( cdm) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. During 2007-2013, these companies destroyed the gas and sold the carbon credits to developed countriesunder cdm. Foreverytonneof hfc23 destroyed, they earned 14,800 carbon credits. This translates into a profit of over US $1 billion till 2012 -13. But it is not
known if the companies continue to destroy hfc- 23 following the collapse of the carbon credits market in 2012-13. When Down To Earth contacted the companies, they refused to divulge the amount of hfc-23 they make and if they still destroy it.
Such attitude of companies is not limited to India. Worldwide, 19 other refrigerant facilities have installed hfc-23 incinerators under cdm. These are in China, Argentina, South Korea and Mexico. Destroying hfc23 was so profitable under cdm that several companies, mainly in China, increased the production of hcfc- 22 just to be able to destroy hfc- 23. This prompted New Zealand to stop trading in carbon credits in December 2012. The EU did the same in January 2013. These were the two major buyers of carbon credits.
The levels of hfc-23 in the atmosphere have rapidly increased since the collapse of the carbon credits market. This indicates that hcfc- 22 industries continue to emit hfc- 23. Estimates show that in the business-as-usual scenario, all the hcfc- 22 manufacturing units in the world will release more than 2 billion tonnes of CO 2 equivalent of hfc-23 into the atmosphere by 2020.
So far, China is probably the only country that has successfully managed to persuade its companies to destroy hfc-23.
In China, when companies were making windfall gains under the cdm regime, the government imposed a 65 per cent tax on cdm projects involving hcfc- 22. While the Montreal Protocol requires countries to phase out hcfcs by 2030, China has collected enough money to incinerate its by-prod- uct, hfc-23, for at least 50 years under the business-as-usual scenario. Yet, after the collapse of the carbon credit market, China introduced a temporary subsidy in 2015 to ensure that companies continue to incinerate hfc- 23. Under this policy, the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning agency, provides subsidies to companies that are manufacturing hcfc- 22 but have not had access to cdm. Depending on the production ca- pacity, new companies get up to 15 million Yuan ( R150 million) to buy hfc-23 incinerators. The companies that received funds under cdm will also get subsidies up to 4 Yuan per tonne of CO . The subsidy will be 2 reduced every year and end in 2020.
Why India shouldn't follow it
India did not impose tax on fluorochemical companies when cdm was in place and allowed them to make huge profits. So unlike China, the Indian government is not obliged to incentivise companies to incinerate hfc23. But there is an urgent need to introduce legislation so that the emission of this super greenhouse gas can be prevented.
Realising the importance of controlling hfc- 23 emission, the National Green Tribunal in December 2015 directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and other concerned authorities to carry out a study on the units that make hcfc- 22. It also asked the ministry to provide guidelines on the storage, emission and incineration of hfc- 23.
An analysis by Down To Earth shows that capture and destruction of hfc- 23 is inexpensive and costs less than ` 15-25 per tonne of CO equivalent. This means com2 panies manufacturing hcfc-22 will have to spend as little as R300 lakh a year, which is 0.2 per cent of the revenue they earn. Over the next 15 years, they would require only R25 crore to incinerate hfc-23 till they stop producing hcfc-22 by 2030. This is 0.5 per cent of the money these companies made by selling carbon credits from hfc-23.
As countries negotiate to phase down hfcs, hcfc- 22 companies are demanding money to incinerate hfc- 23. Chinese companies are in the forefront, but Indian companies are also demanding this. Under the Montreal Protocol, developed countries are obligated to provide financial and technical support to developing countries to reduce the use of chemicals.
Asking money to destroy hfc- 23, when these companies have made so much money from it in the past, is not only unfair but unethical. The Indian government should not support this demand of its industry. Instead it should enact a law to make it mandatory for the companies to destroy hfcs. This will not only showcase India’s leadership position in dealing with hfc issues, but also help the Indian government gain a foothold while negotiating its phase down.
If super greenhouse gas HFC-23 is not destroyed at source, all the HCFC22 manufacturing units across the world would release over 2 billion tonnes of CO e into the 2 atmosphere by 2020
Common refrigerant HCFC-22 depletes the ozone layer. Its by-product HFC-23 is a super greenhouse gas