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India reclaiming global leadership on climate change

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched India's National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2008 and its target to reduce energy intensity, he was hailed as a global leader for taking bold steps to address the issue. More recently, India has received a wake-up call from climate-driven tragedies such as the floods in Uttarakhand and the dire droughts of 2012 and and Manmohan Singh is once again returning to a leadership role.

Earlier this month, the Indian prime minister joined Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Barack Obama and the other G-20 leaders to support "full implementation of the agreed outcomes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)" and its ongoing negotiations towards a new UN climate treaty by 2015. India and the other G20 leaders also agreed to support "operationalization of the Green Climate Fund" and to "support...using the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)...," leaving HFCs within the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol for "accounting and reporting of emissions."

There are many benefits to India from supporting the Montreal Protocol strategy. First, with India's leadership, it will now be possible to quickly complete the consensus to phase out HFCs, providing the world with significant near-term climate protection through a treaty that never fails.

The HFC phase down will avoid the equivalent of 100 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050 and up to 0.5° C of warming by the end of the century.

Second, the HFC amendment will catalyze improvements in the energy efficiency of refrigerators, air conditioners (both stationary and in vehicles), and other equipment using HFCs as refrigerants.

This means using less electricity to operate refrigerators and air conditioners, which means lower fossil fuel use and lower carbon dioxide emissions, giving this strategy a double climate benefit. These efficiency gains will save money for consumers and reduce India's import burden of fossil fuels and the current account deficit, a key parameter for India's recent financial crisis.

Third, the HFC amendment will reaffirm the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility" for climate protection. This is a central principle for India and indeed all developing countries during all climate negotiations. Simply put, this principle means that all countries must do their part to solve climate change - our common responsibility - but that some have greater responsibility and capabilities to do more, sooner - the differentiated responsibility.

All parties to the Montreal Protocol fully follow this principle. Developed countries act first to phase out their production and use of the CFCs and other ozone-depleting gases, while developing countries are given a grace period of several years to continue their production and use. At the end of the grace period, the developing countries are required to take their own actions to phase out controlled chemicals, with the developed countries paying the agreed incremental costs of implementing the transitions to environmentally friendly substitutes in the developing countries.

The Montreal Protocol's dedicated funding mechanism was set up with India's diplomatic leadership in 1990, and so far has paid more than $3 billion dollars to developing countries, including funding to support national ozone offices in all 147 developing countries. The Montreal Protocol's approach to solving the threat to the ozone layer has phased out nearly 100 dangerous chemicals by nearly 100 percent, saving millions of lives and preventing untold other damage to the planet.

Fourthly, success with the HFC amendment under the Montreal Protocol will help build the trust and momentum needed to conclude a successful agreement under the UN climate negotiations in 2015. Leadership on climate policy must come from the heads of state, and the leaders of the large economies must work together to pave the way forward for all countries of the world. The agreement by India, China, and the US, along with the other G20 leaders, shows this is possible.

Manmohan Singh is now preparing for a bilateral summit with the US and talks with President Obama end-September. He has an opportunity to demonstrate his leadership in climate change in a renewed way.

This year India is reclaiming its rightful place as a leader among nations for the essential task of protecting our common climate and the future of humanity.

(22-09-2013- IIT aluminus Rajendra Shende is the founder and chairman of Pune's TERRE, an environmental think tank promoting sustainable development. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)

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