India, in its aim to phase out Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), has reduced Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 465 million tonne CO2 equivalent, according to a study by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. It added that the estimated reduction of GHG emissions in the country will be 778 million tonnes CO2 equivalent by 2030.

Ozone layer depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), carbon tetrachloride (CTC) and halons, were phased out by India in 2010 in compliance with the Montreal Protocol. More recently, in 2020, the country achieved the complete phase out of one of the varieties of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, HCFC-141b, one of the most potent ozone depleting chemicals after CFC.

The ozone layer present in the earth's atmosphere absorbs a large part of the sun's biologically harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation and protects life on earth from its adverse health effects. It also saves Earth from other long-lasting effects on the natural ecosystems and food security.

The International Day for Preservation of the Ozone Layer commemorates the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, an agreement to reduce the production and consumption of substances that deplete the Ozone Layer. The treaty was universally ratified by 2008.

According to the UN Environment Programme, the Montreal Protocol has caused a 98.6% phase-out of ODS, or the Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) by 1.75 million tonnes, globally.

Moreover, some signs of recovery in the ozone layer have been observed in the last two decades. In the mid-latitudes, upper stratospheric ozone has increased by 1%-3%, per decade, since 2000. Additionally, if there is continued adherence to the Montreal Protocol, ozone thickness is expected to return to 1980 levels between 2030 and 2060.

Since the theme for this year's Ozone Day is 'Global Cooperation Protecting Life on Earth', let's take a look at where India stands in its efforts to prevent the ozone layer from depleting.

ODS Phased Out in India

India ratified the Montreal Protocol, along with the Vienna convention which calls on Parties to cooperate on scientific research regarding the Ozone Layer, in 1991-92. The former treaty controls around 100 manufactured Ozone Depleting Substances, including various types of CFCs, Halons, CTCs, Methyl Chloroform, Methyl Bromide, among others.

"Ozone depleting substances are mainly refrigerants and their by-products in food and pharma sector, where very low temperatures have to be maintained in large premises," said Pravin Jadhav, Vice-President, Sustainability at RBL Bank and ex-Researcher on Ozone-friendly refrigerants at National Chemical Laboratory, Pune.

ODS were also used in manufacturing industries such as aerosols, foam and solvents, as well as the firefighting sector, he added.

India had to phase out four major chemicals — CFCs, CTC, Halons and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). The country saw ODS levels peak in 1999, and the Ozone Depleting Substances (Regulation and Control) Rules came into effect soon after in 2000, prohibiting the production and consumption of ODS.

A series of sector-wise projects were taken up to phase out the controlled substances. As of 2022, a total of 384 projects have been approved and funded by the Montreal Protocol's Multilateral Fund to phase out ODS. Here's an industry-wise breakdown:

Halons were first to be phased out in 2003. CFCs were also out of use by 2008, and CTCs by 2010, except the use of pharmaceutical grade CFCs in manufacturing of inhalers for patients of asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases.

India has also managed to phase out production and consumption of Methyl Chloroform and Methyl Bromide. This brought down India's ODS values to a two-decade low in 2020.

Phasing out HCFCs is still underway in India, according to the accelerated schedule of the Montreal Protocol through HCFC Phase-down Management Programme (HPMP). HPMP Stage-I ran from 2012 to 2016 and HPMP Stage-II is under implementation since 2017 and will be completed by 2023.

In 2020, India achieved the complete phase out of one of the most harmful variety of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, HCFC-141b, a chemical used by foam manufacturing enterprises.

Stage III of the HPMP, the last of the HPMPs to phase out remaining HCFCs, will be implemented during 2023-2030. The phase out of HCFCs, in all manufacturing sectors, is set to be completed by 2025 and the activities relating to the servicing sector will be continued till 2030.

The Kigali Amendment

"When the phase out of CFCs was happening, the available alternatives included HFCs and hydrocarbons blends. HFCs have very little ozone depleting potential compared to CFCs," Jadhav told Factchecker.

While being touted as substance mostly safe for the ozone layer, HFCs acts as a major threat to efforts aimed at mitigating global warming. That's why the Kigali Agreement 2016, signed within the ambit of the Montreal Protocol, added HFCs to the list of controlled substances and to combat climate change.

The agreement laid down the phase-down programme and conditions to transition from HFCs to low Global Warming Potential (GWP) alternatives for various country groups, based on their levels of development and technical capacities.

India ratified this amendment in 2021. The aim now is to make necessary amendments to the existing legislation framework to allow appropriate control of the production and consumption of HFCs by 2024. A national strategy for phase down of HFCs is to be developed after consultation with all stakeholders by 2023.

Developing Alternatives

The Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said the Centre will soon be entering into collaboration with eight Indian Institutes of Technology for research and development of chemicals with low global warming potential (GWP), including blends. These can be used as alternatives to substances controlled under the Montreal Protocol.

To maximise climate benefits under the Kigali amendment, the central government also initiated development of a long-term India Cooling Action Plan in 2019. This provides a road-map to fulfil the country's cooling needs.

The proposed plan would integrate issues of energy efficiency, refrigerant transitions, technology choices, reduction of cooling load, focus on the servicing sector, and having an innovation ecosystem for development of low-GWP technologies.