India Can Help Prevent Temperature Rise Globally

AC demand in India is expected to boom in the next decade
Credit: Bhaskar Deol

On the cusp of 2016’s biggest climate win, India has the opportunity to work with nations around the world on a strong commitment to phase down highly-potent global warming hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs) gases under the Montreal Protocol. In just a few weeks, world leaders will convene for the final meeting of the parties under the Montreal Protocol to reach a deal in Kigali, Rwanda. The Government of India and key stakeholders are looking toward the Kigali meeting and holding a series of industry and stakeholder meetings in New Delhi in September and October. 

HFCs are mostly used in air conditioning and refrigeration, for making insulating foams, and in some aerosols. Pound for pound, they pack thousands of times the heat-trapping punch of carbon dioxide. Though accounting for only 1-2 percent of total warming now, HFCs are the fastest growing climate pollutants, due to surging global demand for air conditioning as incomes rise in emerging economies such as India. In June 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi committed to work toward a global agreement to cut heat-trapping HFCs under the Montreal Protocol this year, giving India a chance to lead the charge for strong climate action, similar to the role it played in Paris in December 2015.

Success in Rwanda can help avoid 0.5˚C of global warming by the turn of the century. Avoiding that increase is critical to meeting the Paris goal of holding the global temperature rise below 2˚C. Building on the momentum achieved last year in Dubai and Paris, and earlier this year in Vienna, with more than 100 nations, including India, showing support for a phasedown, the Rwanda meeting is a singular opportunity to take early and ambitious steps towards reducing the production and consumption of HFCs. This will ensure long lasting benefits for India. Industry will have access to new technology and funding for making an early shift. The economy can lock-in significant energy savings with greater energy security and energy access that align with the goals of the Indian government.

Business leaders—including chemical manufactures, room air-conditioner companies, and major automobile companies—are engaged. Last week, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change hosted an industry and stakeholder consultation to parse through the key issues in the negotiations, following Secretary John Kerry’s visit to New Delhi. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) partnered with NRDC on the discussions, including a presentation by Bhaskar Deol.  

Bhaskar Deol, NRDC India Initiative, presents in a government-stakeholder discussion on phasedown of HFCs in New Delhi

Momentum has been building towards more ambitious efforts to reduce HFC emissions. At the international level, more than a 95 nations have presented formal proposals for phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. Since 2013, China, the European Union, Japan, Australia and the US have all committed to more stringent HFC controls domestically and to increase the availability of lower GWP alternatives. Since 2015, Brazil has reversed its previous opposition to the phasedown, and the 54-member African Group has shown growing support for an early phasedown. This growing consensus reflects there is an increasing recognition that phasing down HFCs is not only technically feasible, but also economically attractive with several benefits for all economies.

Countries are already converging on a phase down schedule for developed countries, with possible phase down beginning in 2019, as discussed in the chart below. The African Group, Pacific Island countries, leading Latin American and Caribbean countries, the U.S., European Union, Japan, and other OECD countries are leading in the developing country ambition, willing to begin their phase down in 2021. Other Latin American and Asian countries have indicated their willingness to freeze in 2025, while China and Pakistan are proposing 20252026 as their preferred freeze years. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States suggested 2028, and Iran 2029. India, seeking to continue HFC growth for another 15 years, is proposing a freeze that is postponed to 2031. The table below describes country positions from where negotiations will begin in Kigali.

 

For India and other developing countries, changing refrigerants early on, is a unique opportunity for manufacturers to redesign and optimize equipment for energy efficiency. Using HFCs is no longer the best technical choice, because environmentally superior alternatives have been commercialized and are emerging for most applications, as international markets surge ahead. An HFC phase down under the Montreal Protocol would catalyze significant gains in air conditioning and refrigeration system efficiency, in the range of 30 percent to 60 percent, further helping reduce indirect carbon dioxide emissions from air conditioning use. Given the rising middle class and increasing temperatures in an already hot and humid climate, the commercial, residential, and motor vehicle sectors are expanding the use of air conditioning units in India. Current trends and leading companies in India, such as Godrej and Daikin, are already moving forward with environmentally friendly and energy efficient room air conditioners in India’s energy-scarce market.

Another business opportunity is that the automobile industry is also phasing down HFCs internationally, signaling opportunities for the Indian export market. Chemical manufacturers can produce HFOs domestically now, as evidenced by the licensing agreement announced by Honeywell and Naveen Fluorines India Limited (NFIL) for production of HFO-1234yf in India.

Achieving a favourable Montreal Protocol HFC agreement presents a major opportunity for India. Companies can seek funds to cover costs for transitioning to better alternatives in India. Since the technology is rapidly changing, Indian companies can also look ahead and avoid obsolete technology while covering transition costs from Montreal Protocol’s Multilateral Fund. Another big benefit for India will be availability of funding to spur energy-efficient appliances, further locking in energy and costs savings. By working to tackle peak electricity demand—which is directly correlated with air conditioning use—India can move towards energy security and universal energy access.

As one the leading developing countries, India has the opportunity to bring convergence on an early freeze year for all developed and developing countries. A strong agreement reached in Rwanda, will embody equity with developed markets taking action first with financing and technology to support a later HFC phase down for emerging markets such as India. India can leverage this unique opportunity in October and ensure technological advancement for domestic markets and energy savings for years to come. 

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