Daily Current Affairs – 24th September, 2016

Daily Current Affairs – 24th September, 2016

Ozone Conundrum

  • International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer is celebrated on September 16 to commemorate signing of the Montreal Protocol, one of the most successful environmental treaties. The Protocol was signed by 197 parties in 1987 to control the use of ozone-depleting substances, mainly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
  • Twenty-nine years after the Montreal Protocol was adopted, CFCs have been phased out. US space agency NASA has reported that the size of the ozone hole in the atmosphere has decreased. While it may seem that the purpose of Montreal Protocol has been achieved, using HFCsas an alternative will contribute to another problem: global warming.
  • HFCs do not deplete ozone but have high global warming potential. If the use of HFCs continues to increase, they may account for 9-19% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Changing course

  • The course of Montreal Protocol has changed from ozone protection to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Parties will meet in Rwanda in October 2016 to finalize an amendment to the Montreal Protocol on HFC phase down.
  • Finance, intellectual property rights of new chemicals and flexibility in choosing alternatives are crucial issues for developing countries. Support to small-scale industry and servicing will also hold significance for countries heavily dependent of small and medium enterprises or having low consumption.
  • Ozone Day has been celebrated for preserving the ozone layer. Addressing climate change and global warming—problems that alternative chemicals are partially responsible for—need to the clubbed with safeguarding ozone. Ozone day cannot be about Ozone alone anymore.
  • Since 2004, developed countries have started substituting HCFCs with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are again patented fluorinated gases pushed by multinational companies. Though they do not deplete the ozone layer, they have high GWP (Global Warming Potential), comparable to HCFCs’ and in some cases higher. Most developed countries have moved to HFCs. Now it is the turn of the developing countries.

 

India’s position

  • 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.
  • 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 CO2.
  • India did not impose tax on fluorochemical companies when CDM was in place and allowed them to make huge profits
  • But there is an urgent need to introduce legislation so that the emission of this super greenhouse gas can be prevented.
  • India has the option to move to HFCs but it will not pay in the long run. HFCs are one of the gases whose emissions are regulated under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. India has no mandatory obligations to reduce emissions under this convention. In the near future, however, India will have to take obligations to reduce emissions. It will then have to phase out HFCs
  • It is detriment for India, both economically and energy-wise, to make a one-time transition from HCFCs to non-HFC options like hydrocarbons and not to keep protecting the interests of a few companies.

Way Ahead

The world today is at crossroads just like in 1990. That year, countries agreed to phase out the use of gases like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that deplete the ozone layer of the atmosphere. But in 1990, countries had the option to move to a completely different type of gases called hydrocarbons to replace CFCs in the refrigeration and air-conditioning sectors.  What lies ahead?

  • It is important to prioritize environment-friendly, energy efficient, non-patented and low GWP (Global Warming Potential) refrigerants.
  • Many developed countries are pushing patented low-GWP refrigerants as a substitute for HFCs. US companies are pushing for hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs). DuPont is promoting HFOs as the “fourth generation” refrigerants. Japanese companies are pushing for HFC-32, a medium-GWPHFC, as the most energy-efficient substitute for HCFC.
  • Hydrocarbons, such as butane and propane, are excellent refrigerants which do not deplete ozone and have very low GWP( Global Warming Potential)
  • Hydrocarbons are the most appropriate substitute for fluorinated refrigerants. Their GWP is below 20 and they do not harm ozone. They arenon-toxic (other than ammonia), non-patented, less expensive than fluorinated refrigerants and meet most of the specifications required for refrigerants. In fact, most hydrocarbons are more energy-efficient than fluorinated refrigerants.
  • It would be rewarding, both economically and energy-wise, for India to make a one-time transition from HCFCs to non-HFC options like hydrocarbons.

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