India and the World Stand to Gain by Phasing Down HFCs

Air conditioner use in Delhi.
Credit: Bhaskar Deol

This post was co-authored with Bhaskar Deol.

India, along with countries around the world, has a singular opportunity to modernize air conditioning and refrigeration and avoid unnecessary investment in power generation and phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—a potent heat-trapping greenhouse gas. Next week’s Montreal Protocol meeting in Vienna is a chance to secure these wins as well as further demonstrate India’s commitment to address global climate change.

HFCs are potent contributors to global warming that are used in everyday items, such as room and vehicle air conditioners. The markets for room and vehicle air conditioning are growing rapidly, resulting in skyrocketing use of HFCs, especially in Asia. Recognizing the dangerous impact that HFCs pose on the climate, over 108 countries, including India, China, and the U.S., now support phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.

The Indian government has made significant progress and put forward an amendment proposal to the Montreal Protocol last year. During the negotiations next week, the central issues will be financing and technology. Business leaders in India and elsewhere increasingly support a global phase down because of financing and technological opportunities as well as market advancements in air conditioning.  

Opportunity in Financing 

Securing a favorable Montreal Protocol agreement to phase down HFCs is an opportunity for Indian companies to cover costs for transitioning to better alternatives. Companies producing and consuming HFCs will be eligible to cover incremental costs by the Protocol’s Multilateral Fund (MLF). This would be a win-win for consumers, companies and the environment. The MLF funding will also support energy-efficient air conditioners in India and elsewhere because of the energy efficiency links with HFCs, further locking in savings that ensures use of scarce energy resources where they are most needed.

As discussed in our paper “Reducing Stress on India's Energy Grid”, a key means for increasing the energy efficiency of air conditioning units is to use the change in refrigerants to optimize system design, use superior coolants, and reengineering components for energy efficiency. By working to make India's peak electricity demand—which is directly correlated with air conditioning use—manageable, cities and communities in India can achieve energy security and universal access.

Leapfrogging Obsolete Technology

The Montreal Protocol has had significant success protecting the ozone layer by phasing out ozone depleting substances (ODS). As countries did with the ODS phase out, India and other developing countries can structure the transition to avoid getting locked into obsolete technology. Countries, such as the United States and Japan as well as the European Union are setting aggressive timelines to cut HFC. These markets are advancing and are moving away from HFC-related products and technology. Since the technology is rapidly changing, Indian companies can look ahead and avoid getting locked into obsolete technology. Indian companies can invest in future ready technology, and get support from Montreal Protocol support in doing so.

In addition to technology, intellectual property rights are also likely to be a point of discussion during the Vienna talks. The availability of alternatives and access to technology, particularly application patents is often raised by some countries. However, recent developments shows that the broad scope application patents are failing to withstand legal challenges in the United States and European Union. Further, recent announcements by Indian chemical manufacturers Naveen Fluorine and SRF demonstrate that businesses are capable of resolving patent issues through licensing, joint ventures, and research & development.

Another key issue to watch during the negotiations is the safety of alternatives and standards, including practical and safe ways to use mildly flammable refrigerants. Capacity building and training for service technicians, in growing economies like India, is also another opportunity to discuss during the talks next week. India can take advantage its emerging market and prevent a major share of future climate-changing emissions before they even occur, and meet energy security goals.

Building on the good will forged over the past year, productive and results-oriented negotiations in Vienna will keep countries on track for an HFC phase down agreement this year. A strong agreement embodies equity with developed markets taking action first with financing and technology to support a later HFC phase down for emerging markets. Achieving a global HFC phase down agreement this year, before the next climate talks in Marrakesh is vital to building moment toward reaching the goals set in Paris last year December.

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