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India has proposed an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, to freeze developing countries’ HFC emissions by 2030-31 and then start phasing down. The authors find that this will be a major contributor to reducing India’s greenhouse gas emissions before 2050, but the really large emission mitigation from this source will happen only in the second half of the century

Air-conditioning and refrigeration in residential and commercial sectors are key HFC emission sectors. (Image by Paul Hamilton)

Air-conditioning and refrigeration in residential and commercial sectors are key HFC emission sectors. (Image by Paul Hamilton)

The Hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) Phase-out Management Plan (HPMP) under the Montreal Protocol, agreed to by governments to protect the ozone layer, is being diligently followed by all countries. HCFCs are refrigerants with high ozone depletion potential. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) have emerged globally as the primary substitute for HCFCs.

But HFCs are highly potent greenhouse gases. A high concentration of these gases will add significantly to global warming. Developed nations have largely replaced HCFCs with HFCs, while the developing countries – including India – are at the beginning of this transition.

Now, recognising the negative implications of HFCs, many countries are proposing amendments to the Montreal Protocol. They want to curb HFC consumption across sectors.

The Indian government recently submitted its amendment proposal for curbing HFC consumption and consequent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The amendment calls for a freeze in developing countries’ HFC consumption and production in 2030-31, and then reducing it to 15% of the 2030-31 consumption by 2050.

See India takes baby steps towards HFC phase-out

This is a big change from India’s earlier position. Still, this looks for a later phase-out than the North American proposal, which calls for a freeze in developing countries’ HFC consumption in 2021.

There are many who are happy with India’s changed position on HFCs. At the same time, there are concerns being expressed within the country about its high ambition.

See India’s volte face in phasing down dangerous refrigerant gas

On the other hand, critics in developed countries are asking if the Indian proposal will lead to a significant GHG emission reduction by developing countries.

It is critical to analyse this criticism from developed countries objectively. HFC emissions are dependent mainly on penetration of cooling services. Air-conditioning (AC) and refrigeration in residential and commercial sectors, as well as AC in cars and buses are key HFC emission sectors. The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) – a New Delhi-based think tank – has recently undertaken a detailed assessment of HFC emissions for all emitting sectors for India, including industrial sectors.

The CEEW model

The model first estimates the growth in number of residential ACs and fridges, commercial cooling and refrigeration, cars, buses, and all other HFC emitting sectors. This, in combination with best estimates of leakage rates and refrigerant charge rates, leads to estimates of future HFC emissions for India.

See Reducing stress on India’s energy grid through efficient and climate-friendly air conditioning refrigerants

Assuming an average economic growth of 6.9% between 2015 and 2050, and current estimates of charge and leakage rates, the study finds that if HFCs are not phased down (Business as Usual or BAU scenario), total cumulative HFC emissions from India will be 6.55 GtCO2-eq between 2010 and 2050. As HFC consumption for meeting servicing demands is expected to be high, market transformation will need to happen at least by 2026 or so for meeting a freeze in consumption in 2031.

CEEW analysis shows that if the Indian proposal is implemented, HFC emissions from India will keep on increasing and peak around 2035, though these will be lower compared to BAU from 2026 onwards.

Looking at emissions only till 2050, CEEW analysis finds that 4.2 GtCO2-eq is avoided between 2010 and 2050, which is 64% of the total HFCs which will emitted between 2010 and 2050 if HFC consumption is not frozen. Between 2050 and 2100 however, avoided HFC emissions amount to almost 42 GtCO2-eq. Thus one can see that in terms of emissions, the decline will be seen as soon as 2026, but will have impact on all subsequent years till the end of century.

If the North American proposal is adopted instead, then Indian HFC emissions between 2010 and 2050 will be reduced by over 80%. Of course, if charge rates decline in the future, and leakages are controlled across sectors, the estimates of uncontrolled HFC emissions as well as that of avoided emissions if any amendment gets through will be could be much lower.

Putting HFC emissions in the context of carbon emissions, the soon to be released study finds that even with a higher assumption on leakage rates across sectors, HFC emissions will be less than 7% of the total carbon dioxide emissions in 2050. This is because India’s electricity is coal intensive, and even with higher penetration of renewable energy it will still be fossil intensive unless stringent decarbonisation policies are pursued. But 7% can be a significant figure in India’s broader GHG emission mitigation strategy.

The significance

In 2010, all governments agreed to do everything they could to keep average global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius. The global carbon budget to meet that target is 1,000 GtCO2-eq. If 40 GtCO2-eq emissions are avoided only from India, then the Indian amendment will definitely have a far reaching global impact in efforts towards a climate friendly global regime.

The challenges of course are issues related to safety, intellectual property and cost. The first two are technical issues, while the third needs thorough economic assessment so as to understand what cost will be borne by the Indian industry for the proposed transition.

Though there are broad level cost estimates by the UN’s Technology and Economic Assessment Panel, country specific research and estimates are required, which will give higher confidence to the industry as well as government representatives. The Indian proposal states that developing countries should get the ‘full’ cost of conversion away from HFCs, not just the ‘incremental’ cost.

It is yet to be seen which amendment will be accepted, but it should be very clear that this decision will depend on timelines of the effort and cost of transition. The Indian government has made a positive move on the HFC front, and the global climate community hopes that this commitment is reflected at the climate summit in Paris later this year.

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