A thrill goes down Lane 12, C Block, Kamalpur, every time another working-class family brings home its first air conditioner. Switched on for a few hours, usually to cool a room where the whole family sleeps, it transforms life in this suffocating concrete labyrinth where the heat reached 47?C in May.
“You wake up totally fresh,” said Kaushilya Devi, a housewife, whose husband bought a unit in May.
“I wouldn’t say we are middle class, but we are closer,” she said.
However, 5,955km away in Kigali, Rwanda, negotiators from more than 170 countries gathered this week to complete an accord that would phase out the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) worldwide, and with them the cheapest air conditioners that are just coming within reach of people like Devi.
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.
HFCs function as a sort of super-greenhouse gas, with 1,000 times the heat-trapping potency of carbon dioxide.
While they account for just a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, scientists have said a surge in the use of HFC-fueled air conditioners would alone contribute to more than 0.5?C of atmospheric warming over the coming century.
That is a lot in an environment where just 1.7?C of warming could be enough to tip the planet into an irreversible future of rising sea levels, more powerful storms and deluges, extreme drought, food shortages and other devastating effects.
The emerging HFC ban, nearly seven years in the making, has not drawn the same kind of attention as last year’s Paris agreement on climate change. The Kigali talks focused on a narrow slice of the economy — just the HFCs in air conditioners and refrigerators.
However, the deal, which was completed on Friday, could have as much or more of an effect on climate change. Unlike the Paris accord, the emerging Kigali agreement would have the force of international law, a legal requirement that rich countries give poor countries money to help them comply, and trade and economic sanctions against countries that do not.
Between 6 percent and 9 percent of Indian households use air-conditioning, and the purchase of a first unit — not a second or a third — is driving growth, New Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute director-general Ajay Mathur said.
Every time government salaries are raised, air conditioner purchases surge, as civil servants gain confidence that they will be able to pay higher electric bills, he said.
“It is me of 10 years ago. It is many of my younger colleagues,” Mathur said. “It is my driver, who after 20 years working for me, bought his first air conditioner. It is a marker of social mobility.”
However, a new global deal committing the world to a rapid phaseout of HFCs would mean that many Indians would never “be able to get the benefits that go with air-conditioning,” Mathur said
A fast phaseout comes with big wins for the US, since many of the replacement chemicals are manufactured by US chemical companies like Dow and Honeywell. However, those manufacturers concede that their products are more expensive than HFCs.
“The replacements are more flammable and toxic,” said Stephen Yurek, president of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, an advocacy organization. “So there is a need to make sure the equipment is better designed and maintained, a need to make sure that when it is installed, it is done correctly and safely. You need better-trained people to do all that, and that will be more expensive.”
However, a compromise solution is not just a matter of meeting in the middle.
Experts have said that it is crucial to ban HFCs before the Indian air-conditioning boom begins.
“It’s the iPhone moment, when a product that wasn’t widely available is suddenly ubiquitous,” said Nihar Shah, an engineer at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
During the 1990s, 5 percent of urban residents in China owned air conditioners. A decade later, that figure was nearly 100 percent.
India has three times the number of high heat index days as China, and the surge in air-conditioning purchases will be far greater, Shah said.
In a study published last year, he projected that the tipping point for India’s air-conditioning market will come between 2020 and 2023.
“The idea is to get the best air conditioner technology in place before this happens,” he said. “Otherwise, you’ll have these HFC air conditioners locked in place for another decade.”
In Burari, the Delhi neighborhood where Devi lives, and which Kamalpur is a section of, air-conditioning signifies both arrival and investment in the future. Homeowners here are mostly migrants from mountainous north India who work as government clerks or drivers and are investing heavily in their children’s English-language education.
S.S. Pathak, a bank manager, said he installed air-conditioning so his children, who are studying for medical school entrance exams, could manage late-night study sessions without nodding off or being devoured by disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Sandhya Chauhan and her family live in two musty, windowless subterranean rooms, which turn stifling on summer nights, leaving six sweat-soaked adults to fidget, toss and pace until morning. They have lived there for 20 years, unable to find other lodging on the household’s combined earnings of about 30,000 rupees (US$450) per month.
However, it was never as awful as in May, when temperatures crept so high that Chauhan’s friends speculated that the Earth was colliding with the sun. After a doctor warned Chauhan that heat exhaustion was affecting their eldest son’s health, her husband bought an air conditioner on credit.
Although they are hardly middle class — “We have never let this thought cross our minds,” Chauhan said — the purchase has changed the way they see themselves.
“My children sleep in peace,” she said. “There was a sense of happiness from inside. There was a sense that father has done a great job.”
Among the changes that have come with increasing wealth is the confidence to spend on the family’s comfort, rather than squirreling every bit of savings away, Devi said.
“Education is teaching people to take care of themselves,” she said. “Now that we are used to air conditioners, we will never go back.”
With its passing of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues to tighten its noose on Hong Kong. Gone is the broken 1997 promise that Hong Kong would have free, democratic elections by 2017. Gone also is any semblance that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plays the long game. All the CCP had to do was hold the fort until 2047, when the “one country, two systems” framework would end and Hong Kong would rejoin the “motherland.” It would be a “demonstration-free” event. Instead, with the seemingly benevolent velvet glove off, the CCP has revealed its true iron
At the end of last month, Paraguayan Ambassador to Taiwan Marcial Bobadilla Guillen told a group of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators that his president had decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from the Chinese government and local businesses who would like to see a switch to Beijing. This followed the Paraguayan Senate earlier this year voting against a proposal to establish ties with China in exchange for medical supplies. This constituted a double rebuke of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) diplomatic agenda in a six-month span from Taiwan’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Last year, Tuvalu rejected an
US President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday last week announced it would impose sanctions on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a vast paramilitary organization that is directly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and has been linked to human rights violations against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The sanctions follow US travel bans against other Xinjiang officials and the passage of the US Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which authorizes targeted sanctions against mainland Chinese and Hong Kong officials, in response to Beijing’s imposition of national security legislation on the territory. The sanctions against the corps would be implemented
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose