at the end of the Secretary General’s Climate Summit, I felt the absence of Prime Minister ( PM) Modi among the 100 odd heads of the state that included President Obama, who participated and pledged the action on climate change. But then, his arrival in New York on 26th September more than made up that absence.
Like a roaring rock-star, PM Modi engaged the jam-packed audience by telling the stories of India and his starry dreams at Madison Square Garden. There were moments of deafening silence when Prime Minister Modi narrated the shocking state of pervasive poverty, corrosive corruption and sorrowful sanitation back home. And audience burst into earsplitting thunder when he talked about his down-to-earth dreams of cleaning India, providing access to the electricity to its 400 million citizens, building skills and providing employment for youth which constitute 65% of the total population.
Come to Washington DC and PM Modi was seen to moderate his rhetoric and start preparing to realize his Indian dreams though a US-India partnership.
The most crucial inclusion in the India-US Joint statement issued on 30 September is the strategic partnership on energy and climate change. The actions agreed will have far reaching impacts on India’s poor, neo-middle class and youth. They will also enhance the image of on India as a steward in international negotiations on environment.
At WTO, India resisted the American pressure to amend Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), only to protect the hundreds of millions of poor and hungry Indians. Now, India, through actions planned in partnership with USA, has unique opportunity to act on climate change and secure future of poor workers and farmers.
Till now India, over last 17 years have been resisting at international meetings to avail an important the opportunity to make its refrigeration and Air conditioning industry move away from a refrigerant–hydrochloroflurocarbons-HFCs. Nearly 100 countries including USA, Japan and Europe have given their consent but India continues to block this agreement. Many countries are even advancing to implement it. In Europe, for example, a new law will phase down HFCs by 80 percent by 2030. In the U.S., President Obama also is using his regulatory authority to shift away from HFCs, and is promising to do even more.
India’s blockade, unlike in case of WTO, is not for the interest of the poor. Far from it. Indian negotiators question the availability of alternatives to HFCs. They debate if the Montreal Protocol is he right forum for the action against HFCs. T In reality this stand completely ignores the standing opportunity for India to avail larger national benefits for the poor and neo-middle class.
Refrigeration and air conditioning industry has made enormous contribution to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by effectively implementing the Montreal Protocol. By year 2010, as per the stipulation in the Montreal Protocol, it has eliminated production and consumption of CFCs. Now it, like other developing countries, is phasing out the last remaining ozone depleting chemical i.e. hydrochlorofluorocarbons-HCFCs. However, in most cases HFCs were introduced as alternative to CFCs and now HCFCs. HFCs are ozone-friendly, however nearly 2000 times more global warming than carbon dioxide.
Annual global growth of HFCs, which are mainly used in room and car air-conditioners (ACs), is 8 percent but in emerging economies like China and India it is more than 10 to 15 percent. It is likely to be 20 percent soon, due to increasing demand on air-conditioners from the rising neo-middle class .
As the plans declared by PM Modi for 100 smart cities go on stream, as the cold storage requirements increase to feed-in those cities, as number of refrigerated facilities increase to prevent the waste of perishables to give better income to farmers for their produce, the demand for HFCs as refrigerant would further rise. If left unchecked, by 2050 annual HFC emissions could be equivalent to 12% of annual CO2 emissions under a business-as-usual scenario, and up to 75% of annual CO2 emissions under the IPCC strongest mitigation scenario.
As per scientific studies published, a global fast action on HFCs phase down will avoid up to 200 billion tonnes of CO2-eq by 2050,up to 0.5C of warming by 2100. Avoiding this warming is essential for staying within the long-term international goal of stabilizing global temperature rise at or below 2C over pre-industrial temperatures by the end-of-century.
Are the alternatives to HFCs available? Godrej in India has already commercialized room air-conditioner without HFCs. It uses Hydrocarbons (HC) as refrigerator, easily available in India and much cheaper. The energy efficiency of such air conditioner is also at least 10 percent higher. I myself use HC-based room ACs at my home. I have also test-driven a car of Tata Motors that uses non-HFC alternative. Alternative for car air conditioners is presently costly, however as we have witnessed under the Montreal Protocol, when the consumption grows the price comes down.
When India phased out CFCs, the energy efficiency of the appliances using CFC-alternatives like refrigerators went up to the extent of nearly 30 to 60%. If we enhance the energy efficiency of non-HFC (or very-low global warming HFCs) room ACs, and even make super efficient AC in India-as per ‘make in India’ campaign of PM Modi and as intended in the US-India partnership statement, the benefits to consumer at micro level and to India at macro level would be enormous.
India’s air conditioning sector uses up to half of the available electricity during the sub-continent’s hottest months. The peak demands during the hottest days burden India’s timeworn and tattered power grid. The power outage in India in July 2012 was the largest in the history. Nearly half of India’s population suffered during this black out-mainly blamed for the use of air conditioning systems.
A recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of USA calculates that super-efficient air conditioning in India could avoid the need to build up to 120 medium-sized power plants by 2030. This would save 60 billion dollars just in construction costs. It also would save Indian consumers and businesses money, and take pressure off the electric grid, reduce emission of carbon dioxide and reduce air pollution.
Implementing HFC phase down under the Montreal Protocol, India during negotiations can insist on applying the same rules as accepted under the Montreal Protocol i.e. getting grace period by requesting industrialized countries to carry out HFC phase down first, ensuring that alternatives are available and affordable, getting full incremental cost of transition away from HFCs, and getting the energy efficient and even super–efficient technology. This opportunity is being withered away by India for last few years by splitting hairs on legal issues without understanding the larger interest of India’s poor and aspiration of emerging neo-middle class.
By enhancing the energy efficiency and by avoiding setting up of new power plants based on fossil fuel, the air pollution can be reduced. Millions of poor lives will be saved. India’s import of fossil fuel would also stand reduced.
‘Clean India’ campaign, pronounced by PM Modi, starts today, on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth Anniversary. It should not be restricted only to sweeping the roads, brushing the walls and dusting the files. It should move beyond, and also clean the skies from air pollution by making ACs super efficient and HFC free. END
(Author is IIT Alumni and Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP)