China, India hold up agreement to curb HFCs

Negotiators wrapped up a meeting in Bali on Friday without agreeing to rachet down the global use of ozone-depleting chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are a growing contributor to climate change.

Officials from the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia pushed for a phase-down in the use of HFCs, which are used as industrial refrigerants, as part of the 1987 Montreal Protocol agreement. HFC emissions are on the rise worldwide, in part because they serve as a substitute for ozone-depleting chemicals already eliminated under the pact.

Although 108 of the treaty’s 197 signatories backed the proposal, it failed to pass because China and India objected. The chemicals, which are used in refrigeration, air conditioning and insulating foams, are increasingly popular in developing countries such as India. The measure would have capped the total production of HFCs in 2014 and then lowered it by 15 percent every three years for the next 30 years.

According to a new report by the U.N. Environment Programme, the most abundant of these gases, called HFC-134a, increased at an annual rate of 10 percent between 2006 and 2010. The greenhouse-gas potency of HFC-134a is 1,440 times stronger than that of carbon dioxide.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said in a phone interview that low-lying countries will suffer from sea-level rise and other climate effects unless the world moves quickly to cut HFCs. Phasing out these chemicals could cut the equivalent of 100 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050 and account for as much as 8 percent of greenhouse-gas reductions needed by mid-century.

“China and India need to show they can be leaders rather than laggards blocking island efforts to survive,” Zaelke said.

He added that although the United States pushed hard for the measure, “technocrats move at a very deliberate pace. If you want to speed it up, you have to move it to a heads-of-government level.”

Delegates did agree to provide $450 million in funding between 2012 and 2014 to help developing nations switch to alternative chemicals.

Many private companies have already agreed to phase out their use of HFCs.

A year ago, 400 major companies — including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever and Wal-Mart — announced that they would stop using HFCs in new equipment by 2015.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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