Big Steps toward Global HFC Deal from U.S., China, India

While all eyes are rightly focused today on the historic action by the United States and China to formally join the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s also worth noting the two countries’ joint steps to reach another historic global climate deal next month – one that will be the world’s biggest climate protection achievement in the year after Paris. 

Nearly 200 nations will meet in Kigali, Rwanda, in October to hammer out the last details of a global phase-down of the potent heat-trapping chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer.  Today the U.S. and China signaled that they are working hard together to make it happen. 

Used mainly for air conditioning and refrigeration, HFCs are the world’s fastest growing climate pollutants, due to heavy use in developed countries and surging demand in emerging economies. By replacing HFCs with safer alternatives, we can avoid an extra 0.5 degree C of warming by 2100. This is essential if we have any chance to meet the Paris goals of holding overall warming under 1.5 to 2 degrees. 

Presidents Obama and Xi first agreed to work together on an HFC deal in their 2013 California summit. Today’s announcement signals that both countries are pushing themselves and others to finalize an ambitious HFC deal in October.  As the White House fact sheet says:  “Today, the United States and China are making their joint goal of a successful outcome more concrete by committing to work together to reach agreement this year on an ambitious and comprehensive HFC amendment with an early freeze date and ambitious phase down schedule, along with increased financial support to assist in implementation.”   

Their joint focus on an early freeze date and ambitious phase-down schedule is critical.  In July negotiations in Vienna, more than 100 countries coalesced around freezing HFC growth in 2021. China, the world’s largest HFC producer, suggested starting the freeze in 2025 or 2026, while India held out for 2031.  The new U.S.-China announcement offers hope that China is shifting its position forward and will lend its weight to moving other nations forward as well.  

There are signs of movement from India too, where Secretary of State Kerry met with his counterparts in New Delhi earlier this week.  In their joint statement, India and the United States “resolved to continue to work together to adopt a hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) amendment in 2016 with increased financial support from donor countries to the Multilateral Fund to help developing countries with implementation, and an ambitious phasedown schedule, under the Montreal Protocol.”   This builds upon the joint statement of cooperation on HFCs by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi in Washington in June.  The U.S. and other developed countries have signaled their readiness to contribute new financial support if India and other developing countries agree to speedy HFC action. 

These moves by the world’s biggest economies pave the way for another big climate win in Kigali next month.  Stay tuned!