Trading with environment

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- UNDER the guise of concern for the environment and public health, Western governments continue to push the private agendas of large multinational interests. Experts advising international green funds and banks offer obsolete high-cost, energy-intensive technologies to developing countries, ensuring that old markets are preserved and new ones opened up. Cheaper, cleaner and more efficient technology options are given short shift.

A case in point are the efforts by developed countries to push expensive refrigerant technologies to replace CFCs -- ozone layer-destroying chemicals that will ultimately have to be phased out under the Montreal Protocol. Not only are these new technologies expensive, they are also heading for a phase-out under the International Climate Change Convention because they cause global warming. Moreover, while till now Northern chemical giants like ICI and Du Pont have shown a marked reluctance to sell the knowhow to Indian chemical manufacturers, they are more than willing to sell their products to the South.

Few efforts are being made by multilateral agencies to push the cheaper, cleaner hydrocarbon-based domestic "green fridge" option. The Multilateral Fund (MF) set up under the Montreal Protocol has still not funded a single green fridge project: the technology is not deemed "mature" by the technical advisory panel organised by the World Bank. Not surprisingly, several members of this panel are representatives of the chemical giants like Du Pont and ICI, who presently control CFC substitute technology.

The trouble is that in this highly competitive business, the sale of environmentally benign technology by one manufacturer triggers a stampede of other manufacturers grubbing for any alternatives. Rumours in the UN that financial support to the MF may dry up soon is also leading to a rush of proposals based on scanty information, limiting the choice of technology. The United States Congress recently failed to approve their national contribution to the MF for the coming year.

This defaulting must be challenged, since industrialised countries are liable to pay compensation to the developing countries for the excessive consumption of CFCs in the past. Although the industrialised countries are now coughing up, the basis is their "capacity" and willingness with business returns in mind. This skulduggery should be challenged by India's ministry of environment, one of the 6 members of the steering panel set up to review the MF's workings. India should also specifically ask for representation on the technical panel which decides the criteria for funding CFC substitutes.

The Montreal Protocol is also the first international environmental agreement in the Rio era that has started functioning and that is likely to be used as a model for far more important agreements on biodiversity and climate change. This makes it even more important for India to rectify the fundamental flaws in the protocol.

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