United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been trying hard, since its coming into force in 1994, to strike a global deal to bring down greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and mitigate climate change. However, it has met with limited success in the form of Kyoto Protocol which will come to an end in 2020. The twin track negotiations that started under the Bali Action Plan failed to produce a deal in Copenhagen (2009) and now all eyes are set on Paris where 192 countries (part of the UNFCCC dialogue) will meet in 2015 to finalise a deal that will come into force from 2020.
Still the experts are sceptical of any globally acceptable deal that is strong enough to deal with the challenges posed by climate change. A murmur has started suggesting that UNFCCC, with its very nature, is counter-productive to any deal as it is unwieldy. There will never be any point of consensus among all the 192 parties. Another issue that is being raised is the negotiations are lopsided and the negotiators are barking up the wrong tree. They are talking about carbon sinks, bringing down methane emission, carbon sequestration etc but the elephant in the room is emission of industrial gases with far more warming potential than CO2 and CH4.
This begs a question. Is an alternate path for climate change deal available? I think there is one. If we look at the seven major GHGs that figure in the Kyoto Protocol (second commitment period ending in 2020), the first three – Carbondioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N6O) are both natural products as well as human constructs. However, the four complex gases eg. hydroflorocarbons, Perfluorocarbons, Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6) and Nitrogen Trifluoride (NF3) are completely manmade.
Created as substitutes to ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons, under the obligations put by Montreal Protocol, they have grown in quantum and types of usage.
Another aspect of these gases is they have far more potential to warm the atmosphere for far longer time than the CO2, CH4 or N6O. On an average a unit of sulphur hexafluoride has 22800 times the capacity to warm the atmosphere as one unit of CO2 has over a period of 100 years. Similarly other four compound gases mentioned above vary in range from 12000 times to 17000 times.
If we make a comparison between first three gases and the latter four compounds on the basis of their percentage of emission and warming potential then right now CO2, CH4 and N6O account for 97 percent of the total GHG emissions. However, their combined warming potential over a period of 100 years account for 324 units while the other four gas compounds can create 67000 units.
These gases today account for close to three percent but their share is set to rise further. The main sources of these gases are industrial processes, manufacturing, air-conditioning, solvent plants and energy sector. Traditionally 16 developed countries and more recently, four emerging economies today account for 80 percent of the entire GHG emission. It includes the first three gases as well as the four gas compounds. These countries are part of the G-20 group of nations that meet very often to discuss business issues.
They have economic and technological wherewithal to deal with the crisis. In the spirit of Montreal Protocol, ascribing the same sense of urgency as was attached to saving ozone layer, these countries can sit and work out a deal to lower their GHG emissions and production of GHG gases, especially the industrial gases, that are leading to increased temperature though they are saving the ozone. New scientific studies can be jointly funded to find alternatives to these gases and innovations in manufacturing processes to bring down their current level of usage can go a long way in bringing down global GHG emissions quickly.
It would be single biggest shot in climate change mitigation action. A definitive action to deal with the immediate threat will inspire the rest of the nations to find a comprehensive adaptation plan in the UNFCCC.
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