As talks got under way this week in Kigali, Rwanda to arrive at a global plan for eliminate climate-busting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the Arlington, Virginia-based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions was out with an analysis of some of the alternate refrigerants and strategies that might support the phaseout.
So-called not-in-kind (NIK) substitutes—non-fluorinated, non-brominated substances like hydrocarbon refrigerants, aerosol propellants, and water-blown foams—“have in the past, and are likely to continue in the future, to play an important role in phasing down substances controlled under the Montreal Protocol,” reports C2ES, referring to the 1987 treaty that limited chlorfluorocarbons that were punching holes in the ozone layer. Analysts say negotiations to eliminate the climate-unfriendly substitutes that followed could prevent up to 0.5°C of future global warming.
In a report released late last week, C2ES reported that NIKs, along with recycling and emission reductions, may have displaced up to 85% of the ozone-depleting substances the treaty was originally meant to address. “While the future role of NIKs may be more limited, these solutions, along with lower-GWP HFCs, are likely to continue to play an important role in expanding the range of substitute options while also providing market competition for new fluorocarbon chemical alternatives, which may be restricted in the near term by patents.”
“Based on the current availability of non-fluorinated alternatives and likely emission reductions, the overall opportunity for NIK alternatives to substitute for HFCs is expected to be on the order of 50%,” the organization states. “NIK alternatives to replace high-GWP [Global Warming Potential] HFCs also have the potential to significantly decrease energy use in the refrigeration and air conditioning sectors.”
That could be a crucial opportunity, given the possibility that an HFC ban will put the cheapest air conditioners beyond reach in sweltering countries like India, at just the moment when more families thought they would be able to afford some relief.
“Millions of Indians might mark the transition from poverty with the purchase of their first air conditioner, but as those purchases ease suffering in one of the planet’s hottest countries, they are contributing profoundly to the heating of the planet,” the New York Times reports. In a country where only 6 to 9% of households have access to any air conditioning at all, market growth is coming from families that are buying their first units, not their second or third.
So while the United States is pushing hard to conclude an HFC treaty before President Barack Obama concludes his term of office, India is one country that might push right back. “The president’s rapid timeline pits the planet’s richer, cooler countries against poorer, hotter ones. And among the latter, none has more at stake than India, whose strong economic growth means tens of millions of families will soon be able to afford air conditioning,” the Times notes.
“Both Obama and [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi understand that we’re going to have to have a viable answer to the typical business owner and consumer as to why this is not going to come on the backs of increased costs and burdens for them,” acknowledged White House climate advisor Brian Deese.