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Can we blame India for putting the brake on an HFC refrigerant phasedown?

India has made some pretty compelling arguments for not rushing to sign up for the global rush to HFC phasedown. It is now up to the developed nations to achieve an acceptable resolution

Anyone following last week’s global climate talks in Paris will know now that it was India who led the group of nations refusing to sign up to a proposed global HFC phase-down.

For those who were wondering why India is the nation which is stubbornly refusing to be swept up by the apparently transcontinental drive to phase the HFCs down, it appears to boil down to five key areas. Environmental minister Prakash Javadekar laid them out in his speech to the delegates at the Paris meeting.

1)   India believes that is has faithfully carried out the demands of the Montreal Protocol so far, but now the developed countries are moving the goal posts, having led them down the path of converting HCFCs to HFCs.

Mr Javadekar said: “India has made a huge contribution to the success of the Montreal Protocol and… successfully phased out CFCs and other ozone depleting substances well in time and its phase out of HCFCs is proceeding with due diligence. We have also helped other ‘[south Asian] countries to come out of these substances.”

2)   India knows very well now that HFCs have a high global warming potential, but it wants to know why it wasn’t warned earlier.
Mr Javadekar told the delegates: “The joint statement between our Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Obama has emphasised that we should study the issue with priority and take appropriate action. But first of all we have to understand why did we land in this problem? We have had the help of thousands of experts, who warned us on this for decades - so why we are in this problem?  Developing countries were given technologies and financial assistance by the developed countries to adopt the alternatives which were mainly HFC-based. So the question is: who is responsible for the proliferation of HFCs today?

3)   The country has serious energy demand challenges and it doesn’t want to increase its energy consumption in the rush to change refrigerants.

Mr Javadekar put the issue emotively: “HFCs are not the issues of elites and scientists. They are the issues of common man, farmers and emerging middle class who need refrigeration and AC at affordable cost and with energy security… Hence it is not only the emissions of HFCs per se is the key problem, but the energy use of the equipment and appliances using alternatives to HFCs that is in fact more important.”

4)   It needs the promise of investment to move to other alternative refrigerants – and the infrastructure to back them up. Mr Javadekar railed in Paris: “Lot of time is being wasted in debating, but we still do not know the statistics of what efforts are being done and how the HFC phase down is occurring in the developed countries… There are no specific offers of technology transfer, technology demonstrations and technology cooperation for the developing countries, except reports and presentations.”

5)   It wants the refrigerant producers to be more forthcoming about their alternative low-GWP gases. He raged: “IPR, patents and confidentiality are the arguments still used by the developed countries for the issues that would lead us to climate disaster. What is the use of those confidentiality and IPR issues if all of us are getting drowned together due to global warming? Do not play cards so close to your chest, that you yourself cannot see your future!!”

But India has also been careful to make some constructive suggestions too, although they are pretty demanding in themselves. For a start, it wants the UN to produce figures for production and consumption of HFCs over the last 10 years, and as Mr Javadekar noted: “India does not want estimates. We need actual figures.”
It has also called for the provision of demonstration projects for the alternatives to HFCs in refrigeration and ACs “to test the viability, affordability and energy efficiency needs in every 29 states of India immediately”.
And fundamentally, it wants help from the developed nations, via collaboration with research institutes and cash from the funding agencies – and without commercial confidentiality either – to develop and improve the affordability of HFC alternatives.
That amounts to quite a bravura performance from Mr Javadekar – and quite a package of demands. But it is hardly surprising, given that the nation is having to face up to pressure from some pretty persuasive quarters to sign up to an HFC phasedown, not least president Obama and the might of the new US-China axis.

And, whisper it quietly, they have a point – it is all very well for US and Europe to call for a phasedown, but they have mature infrastructures in both energy and cold chain to assist them when they introduce alternatives. If India is to move to low-GWP, it needs the assistance of the developed world too – and that means both knowhow and cash.

Readers' comments (1)

  • You also have the Gulf states resisting HFC phaseout due to the phaseout being added to the Montreal Protocol instead of the UNFCCC since HFC's do not harm the O-Zone.

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