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US Envoy Hails India's Decision to Taper Use of Greenhouse Gas

FILE - U.S. envoy Todd Stern, pictured in 2011, says India's decision to phase down HFC use "signals that they share our concern about the growth of HFCs and their impact on the climate system."

India's surprise decision to agree to phase down the use of a potent greenhouse gas after years of opposition is a "significant step'' toward global action to address climate change, the U.S. State Department's climate change envoy said Friday.

India on Thursday proposed an amendment to the United Nations' Montreal Protocol, which calls on countries to phase out their use of HFCs — gases used in refrigerators, air conditioners and insulating foams that are a highly potent form of greenhouse gas emissions.

India's amendment calls for a 15-year transition period for developing countries to phase down their use of HFCs in appliances.

For years, India has opposed a phase-out of HFCs under the protocol, which focuses on curbing the use of ozone-depleting substances. It has argued HFCs should be handled instead under the Kyoto Protocol, which places the responsibility only on developed countries to make greenhouse gas cuts.

Negotiations on a climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol have been more challenging, as countries disagree over how to share the burden of emissions cuts. Over 190 countries will meet in Paris later this year to try to secure a deal after more than two decades of talks.

President Barack Obama and State Department climate change negotiators had long pressed India to agree to phase out HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, of which every country in the world is a member.

Obama discussed phasing down HFCs with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a bilateral meeting in India in January.

The United States had already secured cooperation in 2013 from China to phase out HFCs under the Montreal Protocol after years of opposition.

Air-conditioner and refrigerator use has been projected to grow by up to 20 percent per year in India, according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, an independent group. That puts India on track to surpass HFC consumption in the United States.

India's decision to phase down HFC use "signals that they share our concern about the growth of HFCs and their impact on the climate system" and "are in agreement that the Montreal Protocol is the right forum in which to address this issue,'' Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, told Reuters in an e-mailed statement.