Refrigeration and air conditioning consume the largest amount of ozone-depleting substances in India. But, with the help of international aid, the country is attempting to phase out the harmful chemicals responsible.
Godrej, one of India's top refrigerator producers, is a central player in the Ecofrig project with its model Pentacool.
India is still small fry compared to the world's biggest sinners in terms of global warming. But among developing countries, it comes second to China in contributing to depleting the planet's ozone layer.
Ozone destruction is caused mainly by chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. These are mostly used as refrigerants, solvents and aerosol repellents. Once in the atmosphere, CFCs, which are also extremely effective greenhouse gases, linger for many years.
Following the discovery of the damage caused to the ozone layer, developed countries phased out the use of these chemicals almost completely in 1996. Under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, developing countries are due to follow suit by 2010.
In the case of India, the German and Swiss development agencies have provided technical and financial support to help the country meet this deadline. They are supplementing money from a special fund of the Montreal Protocol.
Ecofrig: an alternative solution
One such project aimed at helping India achieve this goal is Ecofrig. It started as an Indo-Swiss initiative in 1992. Germany’s Society for Technical Co-operation, the GTZ, joined in the following year.
Charging of water coolers with hydrocarbon refrigerant.
The project supports technology transfer for replacing CFCs with the more ozone-friendly hydrocarbon refrigerants. These are a better alternative to hydrochloro-fluorocarbons, or HFCs, the first major replacement for CFCs.
According to Stefan Kessler, a consultant with the Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation SDC, hydrocarbons do not contribute to global warming. Various HFCs have this potential, though, and are thus just a transitional substance.
"Therefore, the Ecofrig project was lobbying in favor of the hydrocarbons, because this is the only really environmentally-friendly technology in a long-term perspective," Kessler told DW-RADIO’s Sputnik Kilambi.
An important consideration, adds Kessler, was to provide appropriate research to make hydrocarbon technology a viable option in India.
"In Europe, nobody really services an appliance if it fails. If it’s more than three years old, you just replace it," he says. But in India, it will have to run for another 20 years. "So, the after-sales market has a totally different priority than in Europe. What is done here is developing solutions that are applicable and best suitable for India."
There are dissenting voices, though. Neelam Singh, researcher with the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment, says more research needs to be done on hydrocarbons themselves. More importantly, she feels, not enough has been done to look for alternatives.
"Technologies do exist," says Singh. But with an annual consumption of some 6,000 tonnes, the kind of investment necessary doesn’t justify the production volume. "So, we need to work more on them, develop them further so that it becomes feasible to adopt these technologies and produce the small amount that we are producing for domestic consumption."
The Indian government is also a problem, she adds. If they applied the same Ecofrig zeal to cleaning up other areas - from air and water pollution to plastics and toxic waste - there would be fewer ecological danger signals. As it is, awareness is disturbingly low, warns Singh.
"The more pressing problems for India are poverty or development. But global warming or ozone depletion, those are still more a problem of the western world," she says. "People are hardly aware of these issues here."
Integration can make a difference
Godrej, one of India's top producers of air-conditioners, refrigerators and other appliances, is a central player in the Ecofrig project. Nitin Desai, Godrej's general manager for research and development, is all praise for Ecofrig. But he is not happy with the high costs, although the project covers 50 percent. "Everything is a huge investment," says Desai.
Hydrocarbon-based water coolers are a clean alternative to CFCs.
The manager is clearly impatient with the multilateral fund, which he says has been far less supportive than it should be. SDC's Kessler acknowledges that the costs are high for developing countries.
"The multilateral fund policy is not contributing to any technological upgrading. And whenever you make a change to new technology, you will also want to have good, up-to-date technology."
But any project that helps make a difference is welcome, he adds. Ecofrig also claims to be different in that it focuses on establishing a level playing field and eventual self-sufficiency.
"It’s rather unique that a developing project has given so much power to the target group," he says. "It’s a project that really links from the top policy levels down to the micro level of an individual shopkeeper running a service shop. So it's very integrative."
To help with the changeover to hydrocarbons, Ecofrig has organized technical and hands-on training workshops. With these steps, the project organizers are certain India will be able to phase out CFCs by 2010.