India’s soaring demand for cooling technologies portends significant environmental concernshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/green-is-cool-india-economy-environment-5729927/

India’s soaring demand for cooling technologies portends significant environmental concerns

The government’s launch of the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) on March 8 is a bold response to addressing India’s future cooling needs while neutralising its impacts.

India's soaring demand for cooling technologies portends significant environmental concerns
The Mumbai coastline. India’s soaring demand in the cooling sector is in line with the country’s developmental needs. (Express Photo)

The rising global need for cooling amenities and the associated environmental and economic concerns have been matters of extensive study and debate recently. India — as the fastest growing and rapidly urbanising economy — is projected to have the strongest growth in cooling demand worldwide. While India’s soaring demand in this sector is in line with the country’s developmental needs, it does portend significant environmental, social and economic concerns.

The government’s launch of the India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) on March 8 is a bold response to addressing India’s future cooling needs while neutralising its impacts. ICAP most visibly is about enhancing access to cooling amenities, optimising demand and efficient cooling practices and technologies. However, there is far more to it than meets the eye. At its core, ICAP is about improving the quality of life and productivity of the people of India, and achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — thus accelerating the country’s growth trajectory.

There is ample evidence to correlate access to cooling amenities and technologies with human health and productivity, and in extreme cases, even survival. It is closely tied to achieving several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That being said, India has one of the lowest access to such technologies and amenities across the world, far below the global average. The ICAP addresses the dilemma of how to meet the country’s growing social need in this respect without posing major economic and environmental consequences. Conceived against the backdrop of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Kigali Amendment, the ICAP for the first time harmonises separate policy streams: Energy consumption and refrigerant use.

This landmark policy document demonstrates unprecedented inter-ministerial and cross-sectoral collaboration in laying out actionable pathways and goals to achieve 25-40 per cent reduction in cooling energy requirements and 25-30 per cent reduction in refrigerant demand — as compared to business as usual — over the next 20 years. As meaningful as these goals are to proactively and effectively manage India’s future cooling needs, what makes the ICAP even more momentous is the significant co-benefits — above the energy and emissions reduction — that are inherent in the pathways recommended by the ICAP for the cooling sectors.

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For instance, in the space cooling sector, which represents a dominant share of India’s current and future cooling needs, the underlying thrust is to enable thermal comfort and well-being for all citizens by providing affordable and reliable cooling options, maintaining reliable electricity grids, and enhancing climate resilience of buildings and homes.

The thrust is on ensuring that the vulnerable populations, particularly children and the elderly, are not exposed to undue heat stresses. To maximise the cooling load reduction and possible benefits for this sector, ICAP proposes an approach that first reduces the cooling energy demand through climate appropriate and energy efficient building design, then serves the demand through energy efficient appliances and finally, controls and optimises the demand through demand-side and user adaptation strategies, such as adaptive thermal comfort.

The plan lays special emphasis on enabling thermal comfort for the economically-weaker sections through climate-appropriate designs of affordable housing, and low-cost interventions to achieve better thermal insulation (such as cool roofs). The benefits of the proposed actions extend to enhancing nationwide productivity, reducing heat-islands in urban areas, mitigating peak-load impacts and reducing the stress on the power systems — much of this would also free up capital for other developmental priorities.

Within the cold chain sector, ICAP proposes development of an integrated cold chain infrastructure with the appropriate market linkages, supported by adequate training and up-skilling of farmers and professionals. The co-benefits include economic well-being of farmers and reducing food losses thus strengthening food security and alleviating hunger-related issues.

Driving skill-building of the services sector through training and certification is an important target identified by the plan. This will address rampant operational inefficiencies and leakage of refrigerants — a significant source of GHG emissions. It also presents an opportunity for providing increased employment, better livelihoods, and safer working practices for the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) sector.

ICAP’s emphasis on an innovative R&D ecosystem aims to drive the nation towards better utilisation of public-funded R&D efforts that solve pressing issues related to the environment — and quality of life. The plan also positions India’s cooling challenge as an opportunity for the nation to demonstrate leadership in areas related to innovation. It also supports the Make in India campaign through indigenous production of cooling equipment and refrigerants.

The benefits of ICAP could impact several SDGs — good health and well-being, decent work and economic growth, sustainable cities and communities, reduced inequalities, affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption and production, and climate action. The onus is now on the various stakeholders to work collaboratively, with the right policy and market levers, to lead the country towards a cooling transformation that exemplifies sustainable and responsible cooling for all.

This article first appeared in the print edition on May 16, 2019 under the title ‘Green is cool’. The writer is secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.