Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fluorinated gases (F-gases) are a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications. Because they do not damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. However, F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming effect up to 23 000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their emissions are rising strongly.

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Where F-gases are used
F-gases are used in several types of products and appliances, mainly as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and halons which are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol

  • ·  The three groups of F-gases are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)

  • ·        F-gases can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years

  • ·  Equipment and appliances containing F-gases can have long lifetimes of up to 50 years

  • ·     Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are the most common group of F-gases. They are used in various sectors and applications, such as refrigerants in refrigeration, air-conditioning and heat pump equipment; as blowing agents for foams; as solvents; and in fire extinguishers and aerosols.

  • ·         Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) are typically used in the electronics sector (for example for plasma cleaning of silicon wafers) as well as in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry. In the past PFCs were also used in fire extinguishers and can still be found in older fire protection systems.

  • ·         Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is used mainly as an insulating gas, in high voltage switchgear and in the production of magnesium and aluminium.

  • ·    Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)  is used in the plasma etching of silicon wafers.Today nitrogen trifluoride is predominantly employed in the cleaning of the PECVD chambers in the high volume production of liquid crystal displays and silicon-based thin film solar cells.  

Of late, there has been increased political momentum to shift the HFC discussions from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to the Montreal Protocol.

Why only HFCs?
  • HFCs are part of the larger family of fluorinated gases, called F-gases that cause global warming. F-gases include HFCs, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). 
  • They all are potent greenhouse gases, and are under the Kyoto Protocol’s basket of gases. 
  • Similar to HFCs, some of them are also replacements for ozone-depleting substances. 
  • Compared to the global warming potential (GWP) of HFCs, which ranges from 140-11,700, the GWP of PFCs range from 6500-9200; for SF6 it is 3200 and NF3 has a GWP of 17200.
Like the air conditioner and refrigerator sectors are predicted to grow in future, NF3 used in electronics, including solar photovoltaic cells, is expected to grow significantly as well. An approach that addresses only HFCs and overlooks the other super greenhouse gases is a piecemeal solution and, therefore, the question is: whether Montreal Protocol will address all F-gases and how?


Politics of transition

  • From CFCs, the world moved to HCFCs. Then, from HCFCs to HFCs. And, now there is discussion on phasing-out HFCs with other alternatives. We have moved from one harmful chemical to the next. But why should we be surprised? This has been a game of making money by businesses from both developed and developing countries.

Developed country industry held patents for the harmful technology options and made money selling these chemicals as well as by transferring technologies to the developing countries. Developing country industry in turn earned money out of moving from CFCs to HCFCs. 

  • They also made huge money by destroying HFC-23, a super greenhouse gas produced as by-product of HCFC-22. This, they did under UNFCCC’s clean development mechanism by selling carbon credits. 

Now, the developed world has already moved to HFCs, and developing world is gradually moving to HFCs. The phase-out of HFCs is being discussed. And the issues of market, technology and patents are back on the table.

But the Montreal Protocol with its powerful leverage of trade—countries which do not agree and do not comply cannot sell products—is clearly the mechanism of choice. This time though, the choice has to be right. There are many trade-offs that need to be considered before technology options are finalised. Commercial interests driving the agenda cannot be the way ahead. All substances other than the unpatented hydrocarbons are in the hands of powerful companies

Issues of the developing countires !
Developing countries are right in asking questions on issues of patents and technology payments before they make the transition. The way ahead cannot—and must not—make space to transition several times. It’s time for a one-time transition; we cannot allow the chemical treadmill to continue.

Role of developed nations 
  • Industrialised countries need to fix their own backyard. 
  • The HFC phase-out schedule for the industrialised countries under the US and Micronesia proposal, or for that matter the proposed F-gas regulations of the EU, are just not sufficient. 
  • If developing countries are to leapfrog, then the rich world, already emitting HFCs, cannot keep using it for the next 20-25 years. 
  • Clearly, a much more strict phase-out schedule for the industrialised countries will have to be agreed to.

Primary focus must be on carbon dioxide

  • There is an aggressive push by the Northern countries to address Short-lived climate forcers (SLCF) like methane, black carbon and HFCs. 
  • Most of the actions on SLCF will happen in the developing world. 
  • While SLCF need to be addressed, it is quite clear that only taking action on SLCF will not solve the climate problem. 
  • Therefore, any action or debate on SLCF including HFCs should not take the focus away from steps that have to be urgently taken to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. 
  • Developed countries cannot shift the burden of mitigation on developing countries. 
  • They must take aggressive actions to reduce emissions at home.

Additional Reading !!
Recent news !!

The global community is to sign a new compact on climate change by 2015,India opposes it !! why ? read below !

 Developing Countries Reluctant to Reduce Green House Emissions
  • India has opposed proposals to sign a piecemeal global climate treaty with greenhouse gas reduction targets being decided first in 2015 and decisions on technology and finance adaptation being segregated and postponed for later years.
  • The global community is to sign a new compact on climate change under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by 2015. The negotiations for this deal have been on since 2011 and are beginning to heat up with the next big meeting — referred to as the Conference of Parties (COP), slated for this November in Warsaw, Poland.
  • Perceiving that the developed countries have through the year been pushing at a piecemeal approach to the global deal, India has put in a submission to the UNFCCC, advocating that all elements of the deal — mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance — should be addressed at the same time as part of a balanced package.

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