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Senate ratifies UN hydrofluorocarbon phase-down in rare bipartisan climate vote

SNL Image

Air conditioning units, like those in this building in New York City, will soon be replaced with units that do not include climate-warming hydrofluorocarbons.
Source: Kena Betancur/Getty Images News via Getty Images

The U.S. Senate, in a rare bipartisan vote, ratified an international climate change treaty to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons.

Such chemicals are many thousands of times more potent as a climate warmer than carbon dioxide, and successful implementation of the treaty is expected to avoid a 0.5 degree C temperature rise. As of July, 137 nations had ratified the 2016 Kigali Amendment under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to phase out more than 80% of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 2050, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.

Implementation of the program to replace HFCs — used as a coolant in air conditioners, refrigerators and other equipment worldwide — began in 2019.

Although the U.S. already has a domestic law in place to reduce HFCs, "environmentally and diplomatically, it is important that the U.S. be a full partner in the implementation of the treaty and consideration of possible future changes," said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Energy Program.

The 1987 Montreal Protocol has been credited for shrinking the hole in the atmospheric ozone layer, which protects the planet from harmful radiation from the sun. But as ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, were replaced with HFCs, scientists found that HFCs would rapidly accelerate climate change.

The Kigali Amendment, in turn, set out to nearly eliminate the use of HFCs by replacing them with chemicals that would not affect the ozone layer nor the climate. President Joe Biden said in 2021 he would sign and send the delayed U.S Kigali ratification to the Senate, which approved the deal Sept. 21.

"Ratifying the Kigali Amendment will allow us to lead the clean technology markets of the future, by innovating and manufacturing those technologies here in America," Biden said in a White House statement praising the Senate vote. "Today's vote will help our nation unlock an estimated 33,000 new domestic manufacturing jobs, $4.8 billion each year in increased exports, and $12.5 billion each year in increased economic output."

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the bipartisan vote showed lawmakers' newfound resolve to tackle climate change.

"With the Inflation Reduction Act, this is the strongest one-two punch against climate change any Congress has taken," Schumer tweeted after the vote.

The landmark Inflation Reduction Act passed in August is the nation's largest infusion of investments in clean energy and climate change to date.

The Kigali Amendment is expected to prevent 105 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2100. The treaty represents the largest contribution nations have made to date to keep the global temperature increase to "well below" 2 degrees C, a target under the Paris Agreement on climate change, according to the United Nations.

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