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White House seeks US Senate consent to ratify global treaty on HFCs

17 November 2021 Amena Saiyid

The White House has formally asked the US Senate for advice and consent to ratify the global treaty that would gradually phase down the production and use of a class of global warming chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are far more potent than CO2, methane or other GHGs.

Once the Senate has given its consent, President Joe Biden will ratify the treaty that will enable the US to join 129 other countries that already have adopted the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer that took effect in 2019 This year alone saw 17 countries, including China and India, sign on to the global pact. Turkey was the 129th country to join the treaty on 10 November during the COP26 meeting.

HFCs are a synthetic class of chemicals that were initially promoted and used as alternatives to ozone-depleting substances to meet the Montreal Protocol of 1987. Since then, scientists have noted that these chemicals have very high global warming potential, at least 1,000 times more potent than CO2, and pushed for their replacement as well.

The Montreal Protocol, and the subsequent Kigali amendment that took effect in January 2019, are responsible for avoiding about 1.7 degrees Celsius of warming due to mandatory reductions of super-polluting chemicals—chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), HCFCs, and now HFCs—used primarily as refrigerants in cooling equipment.

In the message to the Senate, Biden reassured the lawmakers that "the United States has sufficient domestic authority to implement obligations under the Kigali Amendment, including through the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (the AIM Act) and the Clean Air Act."

He reminded the senators that they ratified the underlying Montreal Protocol as well and that the AIM Act had the support of the business community, including the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturing.

A week after taking office, Biden had signaled his intention to submit the treaty for the Senate's advice and consent in his 27 January executive order on tackling the climate crisis at home and abroad. But he waited until after the US Environmental Protection (EPA) had finalized a rule that would essentially implement what the treaty seeks through an allowance allocation and trading program.

Although released end September, the EPA rule took effect 5 October. At the COP26 meeting EPA Administrator Michael Regan chaired a discussion on HFCs, reiterating the Biden administration's intent to prevent illegal imports and trading of HFCs.

Starting with a 10% reduction in 2022, the phasing down under this rule will occur in a gradual fashion through an allowance allocation and trading program that Congress in late 2020 mandated the EPA implement under the AIM Act.

Regan said the EPA rule will help the US meet its climate goal of reducing half its GHGs by 2030, though the contribution of HFCs to total US GHGs is small in comparison to CO2 releases.

US Senator Thomas Carper, Democrat-Delaware, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said "it is time for the US to join the rest of the international community with this commitment to phase down super-polluting HFCs. I urge my colleagues to ratify without delay."

Posted 17 November 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst

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