Triple Environmental Benefit with Economic Gain

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Next Generation MAC-technologies Workshop

Shanghai, China 24-25 November 2008

Speech By

Rajendra Shende, UNEP DTIE


At the outset, I would like to thank the China Automobile Air-Conditioner Special Association (CAASA), China’s Automobile Industry association for organising this important event and also Ministry of Environmental Protection of China for encouraging these international consultations. UNEP is proud to be associated with this event which could prove to be beginning of the change over to the ‘next generation MAC technology’.

The world is changing in more sense than one. While the developed economies are facing major economic problems, the developing economies are searching for the opportunities to prevent the problems reaching at their door steps. It is therefore important that technology consultations like these continue so that we all benefit from the optimal solution.

Mobile air conditioning is now reaching to the masses in the similar way as mobile telephones. Even some years ago the worldwide automotive fleet numbered some 720 million vehicles, half of which were equipped with mobile air conditioning (MAC); this percentage is growing. MAC use is expanding rapidly in the car industry: in Europe, since the 1990s almost all new cars produced were equipped with MACs. In developing countries, the number of cars placed on the market is rapidly increasing, particularly in China and India, and the adoption curve is also very steep as incomes increase and consumers seek additional driving comfort from air conditioning. In China the production of cars is reaching to 9 million per year of which most of the cars are air conditioned and car ownership is expected to double by 2012.

CFCs have been successfully phased out in developed and later in the developing countries’ automobile market as a consequence of the Montreal Protocol. Currently, the most commonly used refrigerant in MAC systems is HFC-134a, a hydrofluorocarbon which has zero ODP but a high GWP (1300).

Use of HFC 134a as substitute for CFC 12 was like, what Chinese proverb said, tearing down the east wall to repair the west wall. Industrialised country car manufacturers, suppliers, governments, and international organizations are moving quickly to reduce direct emissions of HFC-134a from vehicle air conditioning and to reduce the indirect emissions from the operation of MACs due to less consumption of fuel due to improved design.

The present global emissions from MAC are estimated to be nearly 1 giga tons of CO2 equivalent per year and another 0.2 giga tons of CO2 equivalent per year due to fuel consumed for the operation of MAC.

Policy driven technology development is taking place in Europe and other part of the world to move away from HFC 134a due to its very high GWP.  The EC’s MAC directive can be seen as major part of the global response to the MAC challenge. As a first step, it controls leakage of current refrigerants, and as a second step, it phases out the use of R134a due to its potent GHG, Being objective-based rather than technology-prescriptive, it sets a threshold level which allows the potential use of low or zero GWP refrigerants. The European Union has banned the use of HFC-134a from 2011 i.e. just about two years from now, in new MAC units in new ‘type’ automobiles and from 2017 in all new automobiles.

Developing countries like China and India are uniquely placed to take advantage of the recent technological advances and partnerships and to adopt more climate-friendly, energy-efficient and non-ozone depleting solutions for their specific situations. There is therefore a unique opportunity to utilise low or zero GWP refrigerant and at the same time to improve the fuel efficiency of the cars and vehicles. It is also important for China to look to the potential export markets and the current trends and legislation and to asses how these may influence decision making on alternatives.

There is third environmental advantage that is generally overlooked. Enhanced  fuel efficiency due to improved MAC, would contribute to reducing the air pollution. 80% of the urban pollution in China is due to automobiles. Hence the possible improvement in fuel efficiency due to use of low or zero refrigerants in MAC would have significant effect in reducing air pollution. As per WHO, 2 million deaths occur per year due to air pollution. MAC sector in China can contribute to reducing the health hazards by adopting to third generation MAC technology.

What more, any improvement in fuel efficiency would also save the cost for the car user, decrease the import bill of the fuel for the Government. Though for a single car owner this may be small, at national level it is significant. The rough estimate indicate that due to possible fuel efficiency measures in MAC system,  China could save up to US$ 12 Billion due to reduced fuel consumption  petrol by 2025.  In the context of the current credit crunch the issue of energy efficiency and corresponding economic gains may have added a compelling motivation to ensure these issues are properly addressed and that the advantages are realised.

UNEP has for some years been committed to working with developed and developing counties to reduce car emissions in the MAC sector and providing next generation MAC support. UNEP is working with a joint project with the European Commission to provide support in this area.  Indeed some of you may know that UNEP in collaboration with the US EPA and The Energy and resources Institute, India (TERI) organised a similar International Workshop in India on “Technology Cooperation for Next-Generation Mobile Air Conditioning (MAC)”, in New Delhi, in 2005.

We have seen many changes since this meeting was held in 2005, most significantly perhaps is the significant rise in global awareness and concern regarding climate change.  The realisation that future implementation of the Montreal Protocol could bring more climate benefits is driving the technology development.

The world has a unique opportunity to get economical gains by protecting the environment. The immediate need is to collaborate with the developing countries and enter into partnerships to ensure that such gains are global in nature. Developing countries can avoid using obsolete MAC with HFC-134a. By forming partnerships with researchers and automobile manufacturers they can customize these energy-efficient and less ozone depleting solutions for their specific situations. Developing countries also stand to benefit from mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, reduction of air pollution and of ozone depletion, as well as increased trade opportunities for less polluting vehicles. Recognizing this inter-relationship, OzonAction Branch of UNEP DTIE is helping developing countries make informed decisions that protect the ozone layer and at the same time safeguard the climate system through improved fuel efficiency.

We hope that this workshop achieves its aim bringing key Chinese MAC stakeholders a balanced and comprehensive overview of technology and policy options in this important industrial sector, so that informed technology and investment decisions can be made.

The role of UNEP is to help provide automotive air conditioning system suppliers, government regulators, research and development personnel, and standards development organisations with a clear understanding of globally accepted best practices, procedures, regulations, testing/ monitoring and technology cooperation.

The MAC sector is an excellent example of how new policies could foster desirable technology change and benefit society through economic (reducing fuel consumption), environmental (reducing carbon dioxide emissions) and social (reducing air pollution and improving health) analysis. It can prove that environment and economics are not in opposite teams but on the score side of the game.

I wish you all the best for your deliberations over this next two days.

Thank you

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