Phasing down HFCs also will catalyze energy efficiency improvement in the air conditioners, refrigerators and other equipment that use HFCs during the transition to superior substitutes, which will significantly reduce CO2 emissions as well as HFCs. In the past, the transitions have been associated with efficiency gains of up to 30 percent. In India, where a high percentage of domestic power generation is for air conditioning and refrigeration, improvements in efficiency will significantly reduce the demand for electricity.
In the U.S., the HFC amendment will provide important progress toward the U.S. pledge in Copenhagen, Denmark, to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, providing nearly a quarter of what still has to be done to meet this target. Congressional ratification will be needed to approve the amendment, but the Montreal Protocol has enjoyed strong bipartisan support since it was first negotiated under President Ronald Reagan, not least because the cost of phasing out these chemicals has been extremely low. Phasing out HFCs would cost on the order of 5 cents to 10 cents per ton of CO2 equivalent, far lower than many mitigation options.
Leadership from India to support the HFC agreement would signal that the world has entered a new period where the largest emitters, both developed and developing, are working side by side to address our most critical climate issues.
While efforts to cut CO2 and other climate pollutants will continue to be a challenge, future generations will view an HFC agreement as a turning point in climate protection, when the world finally began to take effective action.
Durwood Zaelke is founder and president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in Washington and Geneva. Paul Bledsoe is a senior fellow on energy and climate at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and was communications director of the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Bill Clinton.