Paris: In a significant move, India today did not oppose participation in a discussion on the issue of harmful greenhouse gas hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the UN Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances.
The change in Indian stand comes in the wake of a joint statement on HFCs signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Barack Obama on September 30 this year under which both the nations had agreed to discuss the harmful greenhouse gas under Montreal Protocol.
HFCs were introduced as a substitute to ozone-depleting hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs).
India had been arguing till recently in the global platforms that the Montreal Protocol is a specific treaty for phasing out production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances.
Indian officials in the Ministry of Environment and Forests had opposed the proposed amendments to discuss HFCs, which are not ozone-depleting substances.
On the opening day of a key conference on Montreal Protocol here, Indian representatives headed by A Duraisamy remained silent when the co-chair introduced the agenda and asked for its adoption.
However, the west Asian countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain raised protests, saying "we do not agree with this proposal". They demanded that the proposed amendment be removed from the agenda.
But the US and the European Union said that "amendments were filed in the due process" and strongly recommended that the item be kept on the agenda.
Last year, India had led countries including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the conference on Montreal Protocol to demand that the agenda item on HFCs be deleted from discussion under the platform.
India had taken such a stance, despite a statement signed by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Obama on HFCs. Interestingly, both Manmohan-Obama and Modi-Obama statements are almost identical.
Representatives of Indian environmental NGOs attending the conference in Paris welcomed India's change in position.
"We are welcoming the stand," climate expert Chandra Bhushan, who is attending the conference, said.
"It is in line with Narendra Modi-Obama agreement... Now India should work with other countries to set up a contact group to address management of HFCs including issues like technology, finance, and amendment proposals," said Bhushan, who is the Deputy Director General of advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment.
India had been preventing a move to establish a 'contact group' under the Montreal Protocol as it argues that alternative technologies to replace HFCs are expensive and their proprietary rights lie with American multinationals which hold patents to hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs) and are pushing them as a replacement to HFCs.
"Earlier, there was less clarity on this issue. And with Modi-Obama agreement, it seems that the government is much more clear what it wants to do. There is not much politics other than the fact that the issues have been much more clear to India now," he said.
India adopting a stand contradicting the Manmohan-Obama statement had prompted former environment minister Jairam Ramesh to blame the bureaucracy in the Environment Ministry for the lack of progress on the issue of harmful greenhouse gas hydrofluorocarbons.