Home Science The US officially commits to global pact to drop planet-heating refrigerants

The US officially commits to global pact to drop planet-heating refrigerants


Air conditioner units sit in windows of an apartment building.
Air conditioner units sit in windows of an apartment building on July 20th, 2022, in Washington, DC.  | Photo by Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

The Senate finally voted to ratify the landmark Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which commits the US to quickly phase down the use of a certain class of refrigerants that also happens to be a super greenhouse gas.

Specifically, the Kigali Amendment pushes developed countries to slash the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — found in air conditioning, refrigerators, and fire extinguishers — by 85 percent by 2036 The plan was drafted back in 2016 by delegates from countries seeking to update the Montreal Protocol, which sought to protect and repair the ozone layer back in the 1980s. The Montreal Protocol focused on reducing the use of ozone-depleting substances called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which were commonly used as refrigerants at that time.

HFCs eventually replaced those two substances that were burning a hole in the ozone layer. Unfortunately, HFCs are still not great for the environment. They are considered “super” potent greenhouse gases that are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to heating the planet.

To ratify the treaty amendment, the US needed at least two-thirds of the Senate to vote in its favor. That finally happened yesterday afternoon, with a 69-27 vote in the Senate vote in approval of the Kigali Amendment. That makes the US the 138th country to ratify the amendment.

Even though it’s taken years for the US to officially get on board, the Biden administration has already moved to phase out HFCs as part of its efforts to limit climate change and boost domestic manufacturing. The stimulus bill passed in 2020 included provisions that essentially pushed the US to meet the goals of the Kigali Amendment anyway. It tasked the EPA with developing rules to reduce HFC production and consumption by 85 percent over 15 years.

There are alternative refrigerants that don’t pose the same environmental problems, and US lawmakers expected the new mandate to drop HFCs to create 150,000 jobs while generating close to $39 billion in economic benefits over seven years. Consumers likely won’t notice much of a difference since the rule doesn’t completely eradicate HFCs nor require consumers to get rid of their old appliances. New appliances that use different refrigerants will generally look and function the same as the old ones.

But the phase down of HFCs will come with meaningful changes for the planet. With the US’s commitment, near worldwide adherence to the Kigali Amendment is expected to prevent as much as half a degree Celsius of further global warming. The planet has already warmed by just over a degree Celsius since the industrial revolution, which has already triggered more devastating storms, wildfires, and heatwaves, to name a few disasters. So every bit of warming we can prevent is going to be crucial to keeping these crises from getting even more unbearable.

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