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India can make a mark in global environmental leadership by phasing down chemicals that contribute to global warming

India needs to balance rising consumption with phasing down HFCs, which are used in air conditioners and refrigerators (Photo by Pixabay)

The world has won a major battle against pollutants, by phasing out chemicals that caused a hole in the earth’s ozone layer. The next challenge in this area is to phase down the chemicals that are being used as alternatives, because these chemicals are heating up the atmosphere.

The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol (meant to deal with such chemicals) will come into force on January 1, 2019, with over 20 countries ratifying the Amendment. The Amendment was adopted a little more than a year ago, when delegates from over 190 countries gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, and agreed to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) within the ambit of the protocol.

Under the Amendment, all countries will gradually phase down HFCs by more than 80% over the next 30 years and replace them with more eco-friendly alternatives. HFCs, which are commonly used as coolants in air conditioning and refrigeration, do not deplete the ozone layer like hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), but are extremely potent greenhouse gases. HCFCs were the gases causing the ozone hole, and have been almost totally phased out.

Last year, on the eve of the agreement, India’s then Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave had said, “The Amendment facilitates adequate carbon space for growth on domestic industries while minimising the cost to the economy during the transition period.” Many crucial decisions for India, under the Amendment, were, however, deferred to future meetings: including the two most important — the replenishment of the Multilateral Fund (MLF) for phase-down enabling activities, and the promotion of energy efficiency while phasing down HFCs.

At the most recent meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol that concluded last week, countries agreed to replenish the MLF for HCFC phase-out activities, and further progress was made on the form and substance of energy efficiency promotion under the Montreal Protocol.

Balancing phasedown and consumption

While these issues continue to be discussed at international forums, it is crucial to note that not all domestic actions depend solely on MLF funding. Under the terms of the Amendment, India, along with a few other countries, has about 10 years to prepare its industries and governing institutions for HFC phasedown. In reality, the available time period will be much shorter due to the nature of the phasedown and the large projected growth in HFC consumption in India. Nonetheless, India has already introduced policies to begin a successful transition to low global-warming potential (GWP) refrigerants.

Furthermore, many Indian manufacturers are already experimenting and switching to low and medium GWP refrigerants. Tata Motors and Godrej Appliances are among the few companies in the world that are testing and manufacturing equipment with low-GWP refrigerants, R152a and R290, respectively. Kirloskar Chillers has opted for Honeywell’s low-GWP refrigerant, R1234ze, in its new line of large central air-conditioning units, targeted for installation in industrial and commercial buildings.

Danfoss Industries is planning to partner with UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, and others, to develop a district cooling project in India. Chilled water from the Danfoss facility would run into consumers’ premises where it would be used to generate cold air similar to an air conditioner. Finally, six major AC manufacturers have committed to manufacturing ACs with R32, a medium-GWP refrigerant, in addition to their regular AC series. R32-based ACs can also offer improved energy efficiency benefits for consumers.

While these actions are commendable, there is extensive need for concerted action supporting the transition from HFCs towards climate-friendly refrigerants. This includes research and development, skill development and training of technicians, standardisation and safety specification of technologies, incentivising these climate-friendly technologies, and other regulatory measures.

Collaborative research platform

Just ahead of the Kigali negotiations in 2016, the Government of India committed to establish a collaborative R&D platform to develop and foster low-GWP solutions for India. However, this platform is yet to be set up. The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), in its recent study titled Developing an Ecosystem to Phase Out HFCs in India has emphasised the relevance of a dedicated multi-stakeholder R&D platform to facilitate the phase-out of HFCs in India.

Based on discussions with government and industry experts, the CEEW study found that setting up a collaborative R&D platform to support industry in this transition would be a positive signal of support for all relevant stakeholders, as well as for the market at large. It would be in line with domestic ambitions of Make in India, Skill India, and a sustainable India.

Moreover, a concerted effort to develop such expertise domestically will benefit Indian industry and contribute to the economy, as India is among the largest anticipated growth markets globally for air conditioners and refrigeration.

Moreover, as the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC) prepares to begin the next stage of the on-going HCFC phase-out, much-needed attention is being given to the AC servicing sector. The servicing sector is responsible for as much as 40% of all refrigerant consumption. Refrigerants are released into the atmosphere due to faulty servicing, lack of leak detection and recovery, or due to lack of appropriate tools.

The syllabus at the Industrial Training Institutes has been revamped to include latest air conditioning technology modules, as well as information on the environmental impacts of refrigerants. However, according to another recent CEEW study titled Can India’s Air Conditioning Service Sector Turn Climate Friendly?, within the servicing sector, much remains to be done. Re-skilling or skilling up of technicians is only one part of the challenge. Others include employment security and wage stability for technicians, addressing the lack of customer knowledge (which, in turn, results in customers seeking to cut corners while getting their equipment serviced), and standardising service practices across the country.

Globally, as the rulebook and enhanced ambitions within the Paris Agreement continue to develop at a glacial pace, the opportunity for a successful technological transition from HFCs to showcase India’s industrial capabilities, environmental leadership, and innovation-at-large, is well- timed.

The tripod of energy efficiency benefits to consumers, industry profits and market shares within India and for exports, as well as financing available through the MLF of the Montreal Protocol, is a unique juxtaposition of critical factors that may enable a climate and industrial win-win for India by phasing-out HFC consumption — one that could be a true testament marking India’s global environmental leadership, and domestic actions, to mitigate climate change.

Lekha Sridhar is Programme Associate and Shikha Bhasin is Programme Lead at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a New-Delhi based independent, not-for-profit policy research organisation. Twitter: @lekha_sridhar, @shikha_bhasin, @CEEWIndia

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