Looking Ahead to 2015: Countries Move Forward on Phasing Down HFC Super-Pollutants

The Montreal Protocol discussions concluded today with world leaders unable to achieve a definitive agreement toward a global phase down of HFCs, super potent heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

On one hand, the talks were a major step forward with India along with China and other countries indicating an openness to consider a global HFC phase down, as reflected in Minister Prakash Javadekar’s speech during the plenary yesterday. The countries also agreed to an accelerated schedule for talks, starting in April 2015 on HFC limits, as my colleague, David Doniger describes here.

On the other hand, yet again, our world leaders were unable to move forward on taking definitive global action on climate change. Despite showing signs of significant progress earlier in the week, India joined Pakistan and Iran in holding up an agreement to structure future negotiations.

As living standards rise for tens of millions of Indian people, the enormous expansion in room and vehicle air conditioning could strain the country’s electric grid, 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, especially on HFCs, will shape whether Indian consumers, companies, and government authorities can turn the challenges of the room and vehicle air conditioning industry’s expansion into a business advantage and opportunity, while reducing climate change, improving air quality, and making air conditioning more efficient and less costly to operate.

NRDC and our partners are researching the business case for Indian air conditioning companies to “leapfrog” and phase down HFCs, which are unsustainable technologies based on chemicals with high global warming potential (GWP) and move to a future based on climate-friendly refrigerants and energy-efficient equipment designs. The research shows that some HFC alternatives already exist in the Indian market and funding mechanisms through the Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund, as discussed in the talks this week. Reducing the use and emission of these dangerous chemicals, is not only good for the planet, but it is also good for business, with the availability of technology and alternatives increasing every year, as shown by our research (available here and here).

In addition to the forthcoming United Nations’ climate discussions in Lima this December, Prime Minister Modi and President Obama have an opportunity to strengthen cooperation during President Obama’s visit to India during Republic Day in January 2015. The leaders of the world’s largest democracies can come together to propel the world to much-needed action to fight climate change in 2015.