India Focus: Countries Move Toward Phase-Down of Heat-Trapping HFCs at Montreal Protocol Meeting in Geneva

Air Conditioners in New Delhi
Credit: NRDC

By Alex Hillbrand, NRDC Technical Analyst           

Expectations for the Montreal Protocol are high this week. Countries are meeting in Geneva to start hammering out the details of an agreement to phase down heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Eight years after first considering it, nearly every country of the world has agreed to work towards an HFC deal before the year's end, aiming to erase up to one quarter of forecasted global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. An amendment proposal from India last year marked a turning point in the discussions, sparking anticipation of a strong agreement that both protects the climate and spurs economic growth.

To move forward on an amendment, together with knowledge partners NRDC, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), and the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD), Minister Prakash Javadekar head of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, led an interactive industry discussion to address specific characteristics of a possible amendment in March.

NRDC and our partners, CEEW and IGSD have been researching the benefits and challenges of phasing down HFCs in India and elsewhere. Answers to questions about patent-protected alternatives, financing of the transition, and the performance of HFC alternatives at high temperatures are emerging, and the picture is clear: phasing down HFCs is an effective way  to combat climate change, reducing greenhouse gas emissions while providing major energy efficiency benefits using technologies India has led the world in commercializing. That means a more resilient grid, less pollution from power plants, and consumer savings on electricity—all while helping stop climate change.

With the India amendment proposal on the table, India can focus the parties toward an amendment. As differences in the amendments narrow, India can lead Article 5 negotiators to a formidable agreement that protects their interests while preventing runaway growth from countries expected to explode in HFC use between now and 2030. The strength of the deal will hinge on compromises regarding baseline periods, control schedules, and funding language, among others.

India can also push developed countries (non- Article 5) parties to move fast. While 2019 appears to be the earliest year developed countries can act (due to the lead time required for domestic regulations), the US, EU, and Canada have already committed to going beyond a freeze (100% of baseline) to a 10-15% reduction below baseline in the first year. After that, faster, deeper cuts in non-Article 5 production and consumption will help mature technologies reach Article 5 parties faster, enabling quicker controls to catch even more HFC growth. 

India Industry Perspectives 

During the MOEFCC roundtable, participants discussed the main aspects of an amendment. Representatives of the room air conditioning, foam, motor vehicle, and chemical industries participated in the roundtable, discussing the challenges and opportunities they face as well as their preferences for key amendment specifics. 

MOEF HFC Roundtable
Credit: NRDC

One issue stakeholders discussed is the allocation of less than 100 percent of HCFC use to the baselines for Article 5 parties, as proposed by the North American and European proposals. Many countries, including India, use almost entirely HCFCs to meet their air conditioning and refrigeration needs. Any HCFC use not counted towards the HFC baseline will have to be met by not-in-kind alternatives—a fraction that should be discussed and agreed before being accepted. Industry also voiced support for nationally-determined HFC phasedown schedules, a feature of India's amendment proposal.

Both industry and Indian officials expressed concern that amendment proposal contain a gap between the baseline period and the start of the phasedown. Growth in HFC use during this gap would need to be reversed immediately at the beginning of the phasedown, as the baseline does not reflect it. In some cases, cutting out this growth will constitute a major reduction in what is supposed to be only a "freeze year." 

But by almost all accounts, stakeholders concurred that the benefits of an agreement outweigh the challenges. An HFC phasedown will provide technology certainty as India continues to phase out last-generation HCFCs, appealing to Indian officials as they develop HCFC phaseout management plans that move straight from HCFCs to the low-GWP, energy-efficiency refrigerants of the future. Officials also appreciated the prospect that room air conditioners using HC-290 and HFC-32—technologies first demonstrated on a commercial scale in India—may become the preferred global solution. Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently demonstrated that HC-290 and HFC-32 are the leading high ambient temperature alternatives to R-22 and R-410A in room air conditioners, outperforming their predecessors by around 10% energy efficiency at 55°C. 

International Momentum

Also in March, Canada, Argentina, and China reaffirmed their commitments to an HFC agreement this year in joint statements with the United States. Argentina confirmed its enthusiasm for increased support from the Multilateral Fund (MLF), Canada promised to join the United States in making additional transition funds available for developing countries, and China confirmed its support for a successful outcome to negotiations within the year. The United States also released a new proposal to restrict HFC use in several domestic sectors including building chillers and home refrigerators, demonstrating a continued commitment to pushing technology forward.  

As we head into the Montreal Protocol in Geneva, countries around the world have the opportunity to make concrete gains towards a strong HFC deal later this year. India's leadership and recent country commitments have carried us a long way—now can we strike a deal the climate deserves?

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