India Rejects US/EU Plan to Reduce HFCs Under Montreal Due to Lack of ‘Clarity’

The annual international conference on climate change came to a close on Friday, November 22, 2013 in Warsaw.  Despite promises to consider phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol in October, India rejected the US/EU proposal to do just that.  While the London based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) blames both India and Saudi Arabia, India has been more vocal about why it did not agree to the phasedowns under Montreal.  

Instead of taking near term action, a decision that would have accelerated international cooperation and could have been a confidence building measure was withdrawn at the last minute.  Indian Environmental Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said on the last day of the conference:

“It’s honestly beyond me how a non-ozone depleting substance like HFCs can be taken into the Montreal Protocol, which deals only with ozone-depleting substances.  We are unable to fathom what prevents addressing this issue” under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

What should have been an easy win has turned into an extended process with the potential to do severe damage to the climate.  According to Greenpeace, if we do not take action on HFCs, there will be between 5.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) emissions a year by 2050.

Instead of taking a small step to begin phasing down HFCs under Montreal, Natarajan said:

“The transfer of mandate of phasedown of HFCs is simply not possible unless we have complete clarity on identified substitutes, costs, safety and economic feasibility. It will very adversely impact our people and our countries.”

I decided to look into three of these four grievances.  The following graphic has some basic information from readily available sources on the internet:

Clarification of substitutes, costs and safety of HFCs

Identified Substitutes 1) Hydrocarbons: Used in insulation foam blowing agents, domestic refrigerators, small commercial cooling equipment like ice-cream coolers and vending machines, air-conditioning.2) Ammonia: 3-10% more energy efficient than HFCs, so ammonia systems use less electricity.

3) Carbon Dioxide: Has very positive characteristics as refrigerant. Does not deplete ozone layer and GWP value is 1 (compared to thousands for a typical HFC). Cheap & good safety characteristics. Properties allow the design of smaller components & more compact systems. Main uses: vehicle AC & supermarket refrigeration.

Costs
  • Hydrocarbons: Lower energy consumption and lower energy bills
  • Ammonia: On average, refrigeration systems cost 10-20% less to install than industrial refrigerants.
  • CO2: Both cost effective and energy efficient
Safety
  • Hydrocarbons: Highly flammable, but can safely replace HFC’s in most small and medium systems such as domestic refrigerators, small air-conditioning units, water chillers, high-stage refrigerant in combination with CO2 or secondary refrigerants.
  • Ammonia: Safe for the environment, GWP of 0. Poisonous in high concentrations, but 1) smells at lower concentrations than dangerous, and 2) if leaks, lighter than air, will rise and dissipate.
  • CO2: Excellent thermodynamic properties
Summary  There are substitutes for a majority of HFCs, ready for market consumption.  Costs are lower, and safety concerns have been addresses.

 

The only issue that Natarajan raised which I did not address is economic feasibility.  This will differ for each country depending on their economy, policies in place and willingness to put new policies into effect.

We can only hope that this derailment will not delay a decision by years.  The longer we wait to take action, more GHGs are released and the final job becomes both harder and more expensive.

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