US-China Agreement on Super Climate Pollutant Could Make an Important Dent in Curbing Climate Change
Over the weekend President Obama and Chinese President Xi agreed to work together to phase-down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—a “super greenhouse gas”. They agreed to work under the Montreal Protocol – the 25 year old treaty that successfully saved the ozone layer and is now working to ensure the safety and climate friendliness of the replacement chemicals. This is very important since China had joined a limited number of countries in resisting the effort by more than 110 countries to secure an agreement to phase-down these chemicals. Effective implementation of the agreement will help address climate change and reduce the growth in both countries of this potent heat-trapping chemical that is primarily used in air conditioners, refrigerators, and industrial applications. (As my colleague David Doniger said this agreement is a “big deal” and one of the top three actions that these two countries could agree to as we have previously noted).
“to work together and with other countries through multilateral approaches that include using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs…”
Fortunately, there are replacements that have less heat-trapping potency. The Montreal Protocol’s Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) – the technical body made of scientists – has identified existing and emerging technology that can economically eliminate almost every HFC use. And analysis from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that many alternatives are “available now” and alternatives for nearly all other uses are expected in a few years. Working with partners in India, we have also identified many business reasons for Indian companies to make the transition.
Obviously this agreement doesn’t take the onus off of the U.S., Europe, and other developed countries to act at home. As part of the greenhouse gas standards for cars in the U.S., car makers are replacing HFCs with chemicals that have less than one percent of the climate impact. And a number of groups, including NRDC, are pushing for a broader phase-down in the U.S. under existing law. Similarly, the E.U. currently has a phase-out of high-GWP coolants for new cars through their “Mobile Air Conditioner Directive”. And the E.U. has proposed an “F-gas Directive” that will phase down all uses of HFCs by two-thirds from today’s levels – they expect to finalize that proposal this year or early next year.
For a number of years countries have been stuck at the stage of: “should we begin such a negotiation”. More than 110 countries have supported efforts to negotiate a phase-down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. But those negotiations have been stuck as China, India, and Brazil have resisted negotiating a phase-down for a variety of reasons.
In a couple of weeks countries will be meeting in Bangkok, Thailand for the next round of the Montreal Protocol negotiations. This agreement should remove the Chinese resistance to beginning that negotiation. And maybe even to sealing a deal at the Montreal parties’ annual meeting in October.
* “Non-A5” under the Montreal Protocol are the developed countries and “A5” are the developing countries.
** This updates the first graph to correct a mislabel.