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Cooling India with Less Warming: Shifting to Cleaner Chemicals in Air Conditioners Makes Economic Sense

Anjali Jaiswal

Posted June 25, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Solving Global Warming

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Guest Blog by Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO of Council on Energy, Environment and Water, and Bhaskar Deol, NRDC India Representative. 

On the heels of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s call for a partnership with India to phase down “super greenhouse gases” known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), NRDC, CEEW, and our coalition of partners jointly released a key report proving the business case for India to “leapfrog” outdated refrigerant technology used in room and vehicle air conditioners and build domestic and export industries based on more climate friendly alternatives.

The report, “Cooling India with Less Warming: The Business Case for Phasing-Down HFCs in Room and Vehicle Air Conditioners,” highlights the opportunities that exist and the policies to support market transformation. The report is being released today at a working group meeting of parties to the Montreal Protocol and to coincide with Secretary Kerry’s recent visit to Delhi for the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue earlier this week 

The opportunity for leapfrogging air-conditioning technology exists and an HFC phase-down is crucial to accomplish this goal of market transformation in India. As our analysis shows, and Secretary Kerry emphasized in New Delhi on Monday, “If we do this right, it won't hurt our economies - it will grow them.”

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As air conditioner use explodes in India, unsustainable technologies based on chemicals using HFCs are rapidly replacing ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) being used as refrigerants in air conditioners today. While HFCs do not impact the ozone layer, their global warming effect is thousands of times higher, pound for pound, than carbon dioxide. Therefore, the unprecedented expansion of air conditioners predicted in India threatens to strain the country’s electricity grid and amplify the impacts of global warming. 

As the report shows, India, along with other leading countries, can shift away from the use of HFCs to replace HCFCs, and instead advance to the next generation of more climate-friendly alternatives in air conditioners economically. Compelling business reasons are driving the current innovation of refrigeration and cooling technologies in India’s fast-growing markets. These cleaner alternatives can cool buildings and vehicles and help consumers save on fuel and energy costs, while reducing dangerous climate change.

Earlier this month, China and the United States announced a partnership to achieve the phase down of HFCs. India also plays an essential role at the Montreal Protocol discussions to design international cooperation in the orderly shift away from HFCs to reduce these extremely potent greenhouse gases while maintaining momentum as a clean technology leader.

The decisions made in India over the next few years about the phase down of HFCs will have a tremendous impact on the country and our warming globe. Irrespective of how negotiations evolve in either the Montreal Protocol or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, India needs to consider the commercial and technological opportunities. Indian consumers, companies, and government authorities could take advantage of the technological changes and ongoing R&D investments to turn the challenges of expanding room and vehicle air conditioning into a business advantage and national opportunity, while achieving:

  • Reduction in climate change;
  • Improvement of air quality;
  • Reduced peak demand and less strain on the electricity supply; and
  • More efficient air conditioning that is less costly to operate for consumers.

The economic reasons to shift away from HFCs are also compelling. Our paper finds that:

  • Indian manufacturers are already adopting or exploring a growing number of available and emerging technical options for room and vehicle air conditioning;
  • Indian companies are, in some cases, leading the way by developing alternative chemicals to be used as cleaner, more energy efficient refrigerants;
  • Market and regulatory forces in other regions of the world are moving away from HFCs; and
  • The Government of India and international institutions have opportunities to assist Indian industries to profitably manage the transition by resolving policy uncertainties and providing financial and technical assistance.  

As living standards rise for tens of millions of people, making air conditioning a welcome reality, India can and should choose to move away from unsustainable technologies like HFCs and move to a future based on cleaner refrigerants and energy-efficient equipment designs.

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A collaboration of partners, including the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), and The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) consulted with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Manufacturers Association (RAMA) and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) to develop this analysis.

A version of this post originally appeared in Connecting Dots, a blog of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

Dr Arunabha Ghosh is the Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, an independent think tank based in India.

You can read all his blog posts here.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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