Cutting Through the Controversy: FAQs on Moving Forward with Phasing Down Climate Damaging HFCs

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Many questions are being asked on “the fate of climate-damaging gas,” hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These questions have come up this week during the climate discussions in Warsaw and were also raised in Montreal Protocol talks last month in Bangkok. The fastest-growing share of greenhouse gas pollutants in the world are HFCs, often used as a refrigerants in room and automobile air conditioners. There is a business case for India and other countries to take global action now to transition away from HFCs.

More than 116 million air conditioning units are forecast to be in service in India by 2030—more than 20 times the current number—so addressing HFCs in India presents an immediate business and climate opportunity. Shifting to climate friendly chemicals used in air conditioners makes business sense for the Indian market because it transitions away from outdated refrigerant technology in room and vehicle air conditioners and builds domestic and export industries based on more sustainable alternatives. New room air conditioner models, already on the market in India, that use HFC alternatives are also more energy efficient and save costs and energy, thus making a stronger case for phasing down HFCs. If we do not address HFCs now, then on a global basis they could raise the temperature a half degree centigrade by 2100, all by themselves. HFCs are a low hanging fruit to tackle climate change.

One key issue is how countries should handle HFCs: under the Montreal Protocol or the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). To cut through the controversy, NRDC and our India partners developed a Frequently Asked Questions document that answers the important questions.

As explained in the FAQs, the Montreal Protocol and UNFCCC could complement one another, without any conflict. The Montreal Protocol could control the production and consumption of manufactured chemicals, whereas the UNFCCC could control and account for emissions. Controlling HFC production and consumption phase-down under the Montreal Protocol would complement, not conflict with, controlling emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and successor agreements under the UNFCCC.

The FAQs are part of the continuing research project, Cooling India with Less Warming, a business case for phasing down hydrofluorocarbons with NRDC, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in consultation with the Confederation of Indian Industry. Based on several business, government, and civil society discussions in India, this fact sheet answers some of the most often asked questions about an HFC phase-down and their alternatives for room and vehicle air conditioners.

Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of the CEEW, summarizes the strong case for leadership from India in an op-ed published recently in two influential Indian newspapers, Times of India and Economic Times: 

“Action on HFCs offers some common ground in the protracted climate negotiations, potentially creates commercial opportunities for Indian firms, and allows India to assume the mantle of climate leadership.”

We will continue to research the business case and urge our global leaders to take advantage of the low hanging fruit to tackle climate change by agreeing to move forward on phasing down HFCs to protect our communities, economies and planet from the harmful impacts of climate change.