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Will Modi’s US Visit Provide a Cooling Solution to a Warming Planet?

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The Pulse | Environment | South Asia

Will Modi’s US Visit Provide a Cooling Solution to a Warming Planet?

Climate change needs to be a key part of the agenda. Eliminating HFCs – the topic of a previous breakthrough – is a good place to start.

Will Modi’s US Visit Provide a Cooling Solution to a Warming Planet?
Credit: Depositphotos

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gears up to meet U.S. President Joe Biden, deadly heatwaves have been searing through both countries. In India, a heatwave claimed 96 lives over the past week as temperatures rose to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). In the U.S. state of Texas, a record-breaking heat wave has raised the heat index to extremely dangerous levels. 

With heat waves becoming more intense and frequent, India’s outdoor working capacity is projected to decline by 15 percent by 2050 and 34 million jobs might be lost from heat stress by 2030. Globally, such heat extremes are already resulting in annual lost labor comparable to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To adapt to a changing climate, we must mitigate these harmful effects by providing thermal comfort for all. However, thermal comfort comes at a price. Space cooling equipment, like room air-conditioners, releases invisible odorless gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), which are thousand times more potent in warming the planet than carbon dioxide. Furthermore, inefficient space coolers are energy vampires, straining grids and contributing to 40-60 percent of India’s peak load. This wasted energy also results in excessive emissions, further contributing to global warming – and future heatwaves.

To address this challenge, the United States and India need to fast-track the implementation of the Kigali Amendment, a global agreement to phase down HFCs and increase the energy efficiency of cooling equipment. Doing so is critical for India and the U.S. to protect their populations’ health and ensure economic resilience and energy security, as well as continue their legacy of ambitious climate leadership. 

In 2016, four months before the signing of the Kigali Amendment, Modi had met with then-U.S. President Barack Obama and agreed to an ambitious phasedown schedule. Modi’s current visit provides a similar opportunity for deepening India-U.S. collaboration on climate action and accelerating the implementation of the Kigali Amendment, which the two countries agreed to at the 2023 Major Economies Forum.

Rising temperatures and extreme heat events are increasing demand for space cooling worldwide, in turn leading to increasing HFC emissions contributing to more warming. Without implementation of the Kigali Amendment, the world will see 0.3–0.5 degrees C of additional warming by 2100. On the other hand, accelerating implementation and energy efficiency improvements can double the climate benefits. 

India’s Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) outlines the actions needed to ensure implementation of Kigali, including ambitious targets to increase the supply of lower impact alternatives to HFCs, reduce cooling demand by 20–25 percent, and double the efficiency of equipment by 2038. Meeting these targets will not only help avoid super potent emissions and relieve pressure on the grid, but also provide an investment opportunity of $1.6 trillion by 2040, creating up to 3.7 million jobs, and positioning India as a global hub for green cooling manufacturing

While India’s current policies are beneficial, they are not enough to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping warming levels to 1.5 degrees C. Absent more ambitious action, self-amplifying feedbacks and climate tipping points could lead to a hothouse future where one-third of the population will live in places too hot for human survival.

The United States has an important role to play in fast-tracking India’s Kigali implementation. The Biden administration needs to use Modi’s visit to incentivize India in accelerating the adoption of the Kigali Amendment while providing India with the support required to do so. For India to phase out HFCs on schedule, it will need to spend up to $34 billion by 2037; accelerating the faster adoption of Kigali will require even more funding. 

An investment and technology transfer platform to fast-track Kigali compliance and strengthen Indian manufacturing of energy efficient and  low-emission cooling equipment can strengthen India’s Production Linked Incentive Scheme and the implementation of the ICAP. India will be able to meet its rising domestic cooling demand sustainably and provide green cooling solutions to faraway markets like Africa, making Modi’s Make in India initiative a reality. 

With both countries scorching, it is imperative that India-U.S. collaboration on sustainable cooling is deepened before it is too late. 

Guest Author

Zerin Osho

Zerin Osho is the India Program Director at the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), where she focuses on fast mitigation strategies to protect the climate, including reducing short-lived climate pollutants (HFCs, black carbon, methane, and tropospheric ozone).

Guest Author

Kiran Ghosh

Kiran Ghosh is a data and policy analyst, and sustainability consultant with expertise in clean energy transition, energy efficiency, and climate science communication. His research areas include electrification, building energy efficiency, climate change risks, short-lived climate pollutants, and environmental justice.