This post is authored by Subrata Chakrabarty
The global warming potential (GWP) of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are significantly more than that of carbon dioxide. HFCs are commonly used in a wide variety of appliances, but the most common ones are refrigerators and air conditioners. According to the Global Health Observatory (GHO), 54 percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and this number is expected to grow by 1.84 percent per year between 2015 to 2020, 1.63 percent per year between 2020 to 2025, and 1.44 percent per year between 2025 and 2030. Increased urbanisation has resulted in an increase in the use of HCFs, which needs to be stopped.
On 14 October 2016, at a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, delegates representing 197 countries committed to limiting the future usage of HFCs. Industrialised countries like the US and EU will take the lead and start to phase out HFCs by 2019. This will be followed by China, Brazil and African nations by 2024, and lastly, India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by 2028. This is the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and is a vital step towards fulfilling the Paris Agreement and its target of limiting global temperature rise to 2°C, above pre-industrial levels.
The Kigali Amendment is a landmark agreement by global leaders. Online social networking sites like Twitter are flooded with posts from world leaders committing to achieving these targets. A multi-national print media giant spoke of it as an “outcome that could have an equal or even greater impact [than the Paris Agreement] on efforts to slow the heating of the planet”. The United States Secretary of State, John Kerry was quoted saying that “it is the biggest thing we can do in one giant swoop”. It is believed by climate enthusiasts that this deal will complement the recently concluded Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which will come into force early November 2016.
Undoubtedly, these developments are encouraging. However, there is a tendency to take a safe approach when it comes to tackling issues of climate change and global warming. While we focus on reducing emissions due to HFCs, we cannot ignore the massive electricity demand required for manufacturing and running these appliances and the subsequent emissions from the generation of electricity. This is especially relevant in the case of developing economies like India where fossil fuels, like coal, take the major share of electricity generation.
The effects of burning fossil fuels that contribute significantly (i.e. it will reach around 80 percent by 2035) to the world’s energy mix cannot be ignored. There is a risk in focusing on reducing HFCs in appliances in isolation rather than as part of a much larger eco-system. It could result either in an increased use of HFC-free appliances, and in turn, an increased use of energy, or could make such appliances much more expensive and less affordable, especially in developing economies, pushing people to use alternatives that could be more energy intensive. We need to recognise these risks, and make a holistic, concerted effort at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in general. Finally, while regulation is key to controlling emissions, a behavioural shift is imperative if we are to live in a truly sustainable world.