Beat the Heat: Cooling Action Plans in India and Beyond

Co-authored with Shabib Ansari  

With the extreme heat baking the globe this summer, leading countries are working on measures to improve cooling. India, China, Rwanda and other counties are developing Cooling Action Plans, as discussed during the recent Montreal Protocol meetings. To deepen efforts on cooling, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEFCC) is hosting a workshop this week on “Facilitating the Implementation of the India Cooling Action Plan” in Delhi.

As living standards rise for tens of millions of people in India and in other developing countries, the enormous expansion in room and vehicle air conditioning could strain electric grids, require increased fuel import, and magnify the impacts of global warming as a consequence of carbon dioxide and refrigerant greenhouse gas emissions. Choices made in the next few years will shape whether Indian consumers, companies and government authorities can turn the challenges of the room and vehicle air conditioning expansion into business advantage and national opportunity while reducing climate change, improving air quality, and making air conditioning more efficient and less costly to operate.

The room AC stock in India has skyrocketed from 2 million units in 2006 to approximately 30 million units in 2017, which is still less than 10% market penetration. Room ACs account for the highest area of growth, mostly in apartments and homes. The India government finds that room air conditioners will remain pervasive well into 2038 and will consume nearly as much energy as the all commercial AC systems combined, including cooling chillers and HVAC systems. 

Montreal Protocol – Bangkok Meetings

During the recent 41st Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) of the parties to the Montreal Protocol in Bangkok, leading countries and stakeholders discussed the global future of cooling and ozone-depleting substances. One of the key highlights of this year’s OEWG was how the countries around the world are mobilizing domestic action towards sustainable cooling by developing national level cooling action plans.

The Montreal Protocol and the landmark Kigali Amendment aim to phase down potent heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and integrate energy efficiency into air conditioning. HFCs—used mostly in air conditioning and refrigeration, for making insulating foams, and in some aerosol and other products—have hundreds to thousands of times the heat-trapping power (global warming potential, or GWP) of carbon dioxide. Though accounting for only 1-2% of total warming now, HFCs are the fastest growing climate pollutants because of the skyrocketing demand for air conditioning and refrigeration in developing markets such as India.

While steering action at international level, many countries—China, India and Rwanda for example—have released national cooling action plans to achieve the goals of the Kigali amendment, a main topic of discussion at the Montreal Protocol meetings. The cooling action plans are increasingly important because of a warming planet combined with rising standards of living in the developing world which will lead to greater demand for cooling. These plans are also important to identify and implement synergistic solutions.  

China is an especially important actor in the global effort to reduce the climate effects of cooling activities. The country produces 70% of the world’s air conditioners and has 22% of installed global cooling capacity. Currently, only 60% of households in China have access to air conditioning, but as wealth and living standards rise, this number is expected to reach 85% by 2030. In the absence of strong policy measures to phase down HFCs and improve energy efficiency, the increase in demand for air conditioning will lead to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption—both of which would exacerbate climate change.

During the recent Montreal Protocol meetings, China released the China Green Cooling Action Plan (CGCAP)—an initiative which sets priorities for the cooling related requirements for the country. These include energy efficiency standards for air conditioners for 2022 and 2030, promotion of R&D on climate friendly refrigerants, the replacement of old HVAC systems in public spaces and the encouragement of international cooperation to facilitate the goals of the Kigali amendment.

Similar to China, Rwanda has its own national level cooling strategy, the Rwanda Cooling Initiative. The country has been on the forefront of international climate action, in fact, Rwanda was instrumental in the creation of the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol. The country’s initiative focuses on basic cooling strategies such as ventilation for indoor spaces to increase thermal comfort, energy efficiency standards for cooling devices such as air conditioners and providing farmers access to sustainable cooling facilities for agricultural produce. Not only will such measures improve the competitiveness of businesses, they will also improve the livelihoods of farmers who lose a significant share of their produce due to a lack of access to preservation or cooling facilities.

Realizing that addressing energy efficiency while phasing down HFCs would need additional financial support from mechanisms created at Montreal Protocol level and also through blended sources, NRDC has been working with stakeholders in developing these mechanisms for financing energy efficiency. At the 41st OEWG, NRDC presented the findings of what such mechanisms could look like and how these could be mobilized for financing energy efficiency, supplementing domestic sources. These mechanisms will also have a role to play as countries implement the strategies identified in their domestic plans.

India Cooling Action Plan

India was the first country to adopt a plan with the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP). The ICAP aims to achieve the goals of the Kigali Amendment through various efficiency measures and by reducing demand for cooling appliances. Specifically, the ICAP aims to reduce refrigerant demand by 25-30% by 2037, train and certify 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23 and reduce overall demand for cooling across sectors by 20-25%. Cool roofs are a central solution. Cool roofs reflect sunlight and keep indoor temperatures cool. Additional cooling solutions include energy efficiency building codes, research into more climate friendly refrigerants, addressing large servicing needs, and significant investments in cooling innovation. The ICAP, lead by MOEFCC, works to improve cooling and reduce cooling demand, while Heat Action Plans, lead by the National Disaster Management Authority are preparedness plans to protect local communities from extreme heat.

This week in India, stakeholders from government, civil society, industry, academia as well as bi-lateral, multilateral organizations and philanthropies are getting together to prioritize areas for facilitating the implementation of India’s Cooling Action Plan. The multi-sectoral approach will call for a multi-stakeholder action for the ICAP implementation—an essential element to cooling our overheating planet.  

Prima Madan leads NRDC cooling and efficiency work based as a consultant in New Delhi and Shabib Ansari is an NRDC-Stanback Duke Fellow with NRDC’s International Program.