Given the devastating ozone-depleting effects of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the government has done well to announce an ambitious research programme to come up with alternatives—some members of this chemical group, commonly used as refrigerants and coolants, are 12,000 times as deadly as carbon dioxide when it comes to catalysing global warming. The fact that it will be collaboration between government bodies—apart from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the department of science and technology will be a key stakeholder—research institutes, civil society and industry promises encouraging prospects, with almost all stakeholder interests represented.
India is one of the countries that has held out on accepting the 1987 Montreal Protocol deadline on completely freezing HFC use. Though the Protocol allows for “differentiated responsibilities” for developing and developed nations, the US has been pushing for a baseline year of 2018 for phasing out HFCs and a complete freeze on their use by 2020, while India is pushing for a 2028-31 deadline. Negotiations on the inclusion of HFCs under the Protocol have been on for seven years now; India submitted its proposal in May 2015. Given these chemicals are widely used and the available substitutes are both expensive and under patent—the prices get factored into the costs of appliances that use them—the need to indigenously develop alternatives can’t be overstated. India may have a lower per capita contribution on HFCs at the moment—on the back of low HFC footprint of the average citizen—but a 2015 study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis finds that emissions will stand at above 500 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2050, with cumulative emission at 6.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent between 2010 and 2050. By then, residential cooling, commercial cooling, air-conditioning in cars and commercial refrigeration will have the largest footprints, meaning citizens’ share in HFC emissions is set to grow drastically unless a course correction is undertaken.
With CSIR’s Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, leading the initiative, it is quite clear that the government is serious about phasing out HFCs. Successfully negotiating an extension of the deadline on complete phase-out, so that there is reasonable time to develop an indigenous alternative, will be key to meeting the goal.