India Focus: Pivotal Opportunity in Bangkok to Move Forward on Phasing Down Potent Heat-Trapping Gases, HFCs

This week in Bangkok, India has the key opportunity to join other parties to the Montreal Protocol to make progress toward a global phase down of the super-potent heat-trapping chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). This is the first meeting of the Montreal Protocol since Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in September to support “using the expertise and the institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and the consumption of HFCs.”  

The Singh-Obama HFC agreement built on agreements from earlier this summer between the U.S. and China and at the G-20, as well as earlier declarations at Rio+20 summit, the Arctic Council, and the Bali and Bangkok Declarations signed by the majority of parties to the Montreal Protocol. After this summer’s progress, the test for this week’s meeting is whether the parties will establish a formal contact group to commence negotiations on HFC management and on amendments that establish acceptable schedules for phasing down HFC production and use and mutually agreeable financial support for developing country transitions to new and safer technologies. 

The Bangkok meeting can advance market transformation for the car and room air conditioning industry in India and elsewhere to phase down HFCs. While these potent heat-trapping refrigerants do not deplete the ozone, HFCs do more than their share in contributing to global warming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that left unabated, HFC emissions could rise to an equivalent of nearly 20% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide by 2050. Eliminating HFCs from room and automobile air conditioners presents a tremendous opportunity for India to transform its market to save energy and money. By moving to more efficient, climate friendlier alternatives sooner, manufacturers could avoid the cost of transitioning from one antiquated technology to the next. And India could seize a big share of the growing market for HFC-free products around the world.

Increasing affluence and changing consumer choices have contributed to a rapid rise in demand for air conditioners in India, as analyzed in, “Cooling India with Less Warming: The Business Case for Phasing Down HFCs in Room and Vehicle Air Conditioners,” a joint paper with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, The Energy and Resources Institute, Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The total number of room air conditioner units in the country may reach 200 million by 2030 – more than 40 times the current number. With that many air conditioning units in service, phasing down HFCs is a crucial step to curbing climate change. Two companies – Godrej & Boyce and Daikin – already manufacture and market room air conditioners in India with climate friendlier refrigerants.

The automobile air conditioning market is growing equally fast. India is developing into an export hub for automobiles, on top of its already large domestic market. As car manufacturers increase their sales abroad, they are choosing to design vehicles to the highest international standards. Tata Motors and Maruti Suzuki have developed prototypes using an HFC replacement almost 1,400 times less potent than the current HFC refrigerant.  With these industrial leaders shifting away from climate pollutants, companies across India and the world have good reason to follow suit.

So the business case and diplomatic path forward are now open, but there is much work still to be done.  Leading nations, India, the U.S., and China, together with the other Montreal Protocol parties, need to work together under that treaty, something they have done successfully literally a dozen times or more to protect their communities and the planet.