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On the eve of a crucial meeting, India’s government and industry are unsure about the way to approach phase-out of some of the ozone-depleting gases which have been banned under the Montreal Protocol

Climate-friendly air-conditioners being manufactured by Godrej, the only Indian company that has leapfrogged from high-warming HFCs to low-warming alternatives (Image by Wolf Gebhardt)

As a meeting of the Montreal protocol on ozone-depleting gases begins in Paris on July 14, both India’s newly-renamed Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the refrigeration and air-conditioning industry are unsure how to approach the phase-out of these substances.

India successfully did away with chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, Rajendra Shende, former head of the OzonAction programme of the UN Environment Programme in Paris, told “The phase-out of its substitute, hydrochlorofluorocarbons or HCFCs, is on schedule.”

Dilip Rajadhyaksha, Senior General Manager in Godrej’s refrigerator and air-conditioner manufacturing plant in Pune, told that the production and consumption of HCFCs have been frozen since 2013 and next year, there will be a 10% reduction. Its phase-out ends only in 2030.

“The substitute to both are HFCs, which do not deplete ozone but have a high global warming potential. India produces HFCs to partly meet India’s needs as a substitute for CFCs and HCFCs,” said Shende. “Indian industry has to undergo yet another change and leapfrog from high-warming HFCs to low-warming alternatives, which industry feels is too much of a shock to bear. The US, EU and Japan are willing to phase down these HFCs but India and China, the biggest users of air-conditioners, do not want to.”

At an Indo-US workshop on phase-down of HFCs in 2012, the Refrigerant Gas Manufacturers Association (REGMA) pointed out that all five HFC-producing plants obtain funds from the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol under the UN climate change convention for safely disposing of HFC emissions.

Technology transfer promise not kept

REGMA also pointed out how technology transfer for substituting HFCs has not been obtained under the Montreal Protocol although promised. The financial compensation fell short of incremental costs, which were obtained for phasing out HCFCs. In 2007, the schedule for replacing HCFCs was agreed upon, contingent on HFCs being “readily available” as substitutes.  “Two changeovers in a short space of time – associated costs and production disruptions – are not affordable by a country like India,” REGMA observed.

At a summit last year, US President Barack Obama prevailed upon President Xi Jinping of China to wind down the production of HFCs. The two countries stated that they would work together to persuade emerging economies such as India and Brazil to follow suit. “India will still be unhappy. This isn’t done tomorrow,” said a US administration official. Two months later, the G20 Summit – where then prime minister Manmohan Singh was present – ratified the decision to phase out HFCs.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a think tank based in New Delhi, has accused Indian companies of “tasting blood’” by first getting funds from the multilateral fund of the Montreal Protocol for phasing out CFCs. Four Indian and Chinese companies, accounting for a sixth of world production at the time, earned a whopping $82 million. Companies then shifted to HCFC-22, the by-product of which gas was HFC-23, which warms the globe 12,000 times more than carbon dioxide.

Every tonne of HCFC-22 yields 30kg of HFC-23, each tonne of which yielded 11,700 certified emission reduction (CERs) certificates at €12-15 per unit to dispose of under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As the CSE asserts, “China makes 92% of HCFCs and got most out of it; India followed. Companies earned 50-100 times more money by selling CERs than the cost of incinerating gas (Rs 11 to burn; Rs 800 from selling).”

The phasing out HFCs should come under the purview of the Kyoto Protocol, since it concerns global warming. However, the US is allergic to the protocol, which prescribes compulsory reductions for each developed country’s emissions, and has not signed it. Indian companies are in favour of the Montreal Protocol because of the funding that should accompany it. The US is also batting for its chemical multinationals which are developing substitutes for HFCs. DuPont is pushing one, while Japan’s Daikin has another. China and India present a huge global market.

Different voices from India

Indian lobby groups and industry associations are speaking in different voices. At a meeting last June in Delhi called by the Council for Energy, Environment & Water, the Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) and three other organizations, it was pointed out that room air conditioner sales doubled from 400,000 units in 2006 to 800,000 in 2011. The total power consumed by these units consequently increased from 2,308 GWh (gigawatt hours) in 2006 to 5,099 GWh in 2011— by far the largest component of overall home power consumption. By 2030, India is expected to have 200 million units. The participants urged a shift to refrigerants which were “climate-friendly and energy-efficient” without citing the need for technology transfer and funding for developing countries.

The only Indian company which has made this transition by leapfrogging from HCFCs is Godrej. With some €500,000 from the German government, it has adopted an old patent-free technology which uses propane. These Greenpeace-promoted “Greenfreeze” fridges which use propane as a refrigerant are as energy-efficient as those with HFC-134A, commonly used in India. The other component in fridges is insulation foam, where Greenfreeze uses hydrocarbon-based agents which, Greenpeace says, have “no ozone depletion potential and the effect of its components on global warming is negligible”.

According to Rajadhyaksha, “Inflammability is the chief concern. Blue Star and Voltas are also experimenting with propane, but are looking forward to funding. Energy-efficiency is another issue.” Godrej has produced 60,000 air-conditioners with this technology and has 5% of the air-conditioner market and 13% of refrigerators. US and European chemical companies discredit propane for its combustibility, and are eyeing the huge global market for their substitutes. DuPont is pushing HFO (hydrofluoroolefins), a fourth-generation product.

From this year, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has introduced stringent norms, which Whirlpool and LG observe. “Indian manufacturers are now BEE-complaint,” Rajadhyaksha said, “and consumers are switching over to energy-efficient models.”

The Ozone Cell in the MoEFCC is not playing a proactive role in its HCFC phase-out management plan. It has launched a campaign to train the service sector. However, the switch to manufacture of air-conditioners which are both low on ozone depletion and energy consumption is proceeding slowly.

Shende believes that “there is an unprecedented opportunity for India to take advantage of the HFC phase-down. If the energy-efficiency of room air-conditioners, in the process, increases by 10%, it can obviate building 120 power plants of 500MW each. Industry is always ready to take technology-related shocks.

”We are not resistant to change. For mobile phones and Internet devices, we throw away equipment every few years. And what difference does it make whether HFC phase-down is under the Montreal Protocol or Kyoto Protocol? It is the national benefit by energy saving that is of critical importance. India should negotiate for HFC-free, energy-efficient technology.”

By not sending a high-level delegation to Paris for the current talks, the MoEFCC may be jeopardizing the interests of Indian industry, considering that the next meeting of countries under the Montreal Protocol is taking place in Paris this November. Soon, there may well be binding decisions taken on the phase-out of HFCs.

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