BIRGANJ – Eleven years ago, when 74 tons of a contraband gas used in refrigeration and air-conditioning were seized by customs at the Indo-Nepal border here, it was hailed internationally as a major victory in the campaign against smuggling of chemicals that destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer.
But no one thought of what to do with the nearly 900 cylinders of gas, and they have remained in a dusty and stuffy warehouse in Birganj since 2001. Now, after years of negotiations, the last of the chemicals will be shipped to the United States for destruction, and the entire process will be funded by carbon credits earned in removing a potent greenhouse gas.
Called CFC-12, the gas is not just banned by the Montreal Protocol because it is harmful to the ozone layer, it is also 10,900 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Nepal is a signatory to the Montreal Protocol and, as a developing country, was allowed to use some of the CFC until the complete ban went into force in 2010.
But there was still eight tons of the chemicals left, and Nepal's Bureau of Standards and Metrology, the California-based EOS Climate and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have joined forces to use the international carbon trading market to pay for the destruction.
"We have been working on the safe disposal of this harmful chemical for years, and it is a feather in Nepal's cap," says Sitaram Joshi, the government official in charge of ozone activities in Nepal till recently. "It sets a precedence for similar destruction of CFCs elsewhere in the developing world."
EOS Climate is the leading company using carbon markets to destroy CFCs, and its operations director, Brian Stewart, is in Birganj this week to oversee the shipment of the cylinders to the United States via Kolkata port.
"Without EOS ensuring the destruction of this material in the United States, it would eventually be released into the atmosphere causing significant harm," Stewart told Nepali Times. "The average person in Nepal emits between 0.1 and 0.3 metric tons of C02 per year. The destruction of this stockpile is equivalent to preventing more than 60,000 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere."
Despite the ban on CFCs, there are still old refrigerators and air-conditioners around the world that use the chemical. Rather than allowing for CFC-based refrigerants to escape into the environment, EOS Climate pays for the destruction of these harmful gases through carbon markets. When the chemicals are finally destroyed, EOS Climate will share revenue with the Nepal government to help fund additional training and awareness about responsible refrigerant management and appliance recycling.
Says UNEP's Saurabh Kumar: "Nepal's experience proves that you can leverage carbon funds with a market-based solution to finance the disposal of chemicals which have greenhouse potential and are harmful to the ozone layer."
CFCs were replaced by HCFCs, which are ozone-friendly but are also very potent greenhouse gases. Signatories to the Montreal Protocol have committed to also phase them out by 2030. The Nepal project demonstrates that similar carbon-market funded approach could be used to remove HCFCs as well.
Cooling without heating, DAMBAR K SHRESTHA in SYANGBOCHE
Nepal is the only country in Asia that hasn't ratified an international treaty to phase out coolants that warm the earth
Nepal becomes ozone friendly, NARESH NEWAR
Smugglers along the Indo-Nepal border trading in illegal CFCs could jeopardise Nepal's obligations to protect the ozone layer