WASHINGTON – The Senate voted Wednesday to approve an international climate treaty for the first time in 30 years, agreeing to a rare bipartisan agreement to phase out the use of planet-warming industrial chemicals commonly found in refrigerators and air conditioners.
The United States joined it by a vote of 69 to 27 2016 Kigali Amendmenttogether with 138 other nations who agreed sharply reduce the production and use of hydrofluorocarbonsor HFCs. The chemicals are powerful greenhouse gases that heat the planet 1,000 times more than carbon dioxide.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, called the ratification “a historic step forward in the fight against global warming in a huge way.” He predicted that the vote could be considered one of the most important achievements of both parties during this Congress.
“The ratification of the Kigali Amendment, along with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, is the strongest blow against climate change Congress has ever taken,” Schumer said, referring to the passage of the nation’s first major climate change bill last month. which is pumping $370 billion into expanding wind and solar power and electric vehicles.
If the Kigali Pact is successfully implemented, scientists estimate it would prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius, or roughly 1 degree Fahrenheit, of warming by the end of this century. At this stage of the planet’s rapid warming, every fraction of a degree makes a difference.
Average global temperatures have increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times. Scientists have said that an increase above 1.5 degrees Celsius significantly increases the likelihood of catastrophic climate impacts.
On a practical level, the vote in the United States changes little, as Congress and the Biden administration have already enacted policies to reduce the production and import of hydrofluorocarbons in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years, and the industry has turned to alternative chemicals.
But the ratification of the treaty, which the United States helped secure in the waning days of the Obama administration, carries symbolic weight and adds momentum at a time of increased action against climate change in Washington.
“This treaty shows that it is not hopeless to solve climate change,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington.
The Biden Administration’s Environmental Agenda
- Inflation Reduction Act: The new lawwhich invests billions for climate and energy programsrepresents America’s largest investment in the fight against climate change.
- Changes to the climate team: John Podestawho led the Obama White House on climate strategy, will oversee $370 billion in clean energy funds Gina McCarthyPresident Biden’s top climate adviser, is set to step down.
- Executive action: After signing the climate bill, Mr. Biden plans to a a series of measures to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Zaelke said the approach of limiting greenhouse gases through a relatively narrow sector of the economy, in this case refrigeration and air conditioning, could be a model for future agreements. “It shows the way forward by biting into the climate problem,” he said.
The vote came on a day President Biden told the United Nations General Assembly that the United States would continue to push for climate action, reversing four years of stagnation under President Donald J. Trump. Under Mr. Trump, the United States became the only country to withdraw from the 2105 Paris Agreement, a global pact designed to reduce planet-warming fossil fuel pollution.
“Since the day I took office, we have been pursuing a bold climate agenda,” Mr. Biden told a New York rally, noting that he had rejoined the Paris Agreement and brokered a commitment last year among countries representing 65 percent of global GDP. prevent the average global temperature from rising.
After passing an inflation-reduction bill last month, the Senate’s ratification of the Kigali accord gives Mr. Biden another example of how to reassure world leaders skeptical about whether the United States can meet its climate commitments.
The Kigali Agreement was an addendum to Montreal Protocol, a landmark 1987 treaty designed to repair the ozone layer by banning coolants called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, that weakened the layer. Ozone is part of the Earth’s atmosphere that absorbs harmful ultraviolet light from the Sun.
Chemical companies responded to the 1987 agreement by developing HFCs, which do not deplete the ozone layer but have been shown to be a significant driver of global warming. More than a dozen states have banned or restricted HFCs.
Reducing HFCs has become an unusual climate policy to earn support from both the environmental community and industry and business groups that typically fight climate action. These include the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Chemistry Council, and the United States Chamber of Commerce.
Many American manufacturers had a business incentive to support the amendment. According to the pact, countries that do not ratify the amendment will have limited access to expanding international markets from 2033.
Some Republicans from states with many chemical producers supported the Kigali agreement.
Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, joined with Sen. Tom Carper, Democrat of Delaware, who heads the Senate Environment Committee, to urge passage of the pact.
“Ratification of the Kigali Amendment will further open global markets to American-made products and allow the federal government to further prevent illegal Chinese dumping of HFCs in the United States, which harms American businesses,” the senators wrote in a statement this year. .
In 2020, Congress passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which directs the Environmental Protection Agency to set new rules for HFCs that will take effect this year and will gradually reduce production and imports of hydrofluorocarbons in the United States by 85 percent. the next 15 years.
About 15 percent of HFCs would still be allowed because they have critical uses for which alternatives do not yet exist. Under the Kigali Amendment, industrialized countries such as the United States and European Union countries will reduce HFC production and consumption to around 15 percent of 2012 levels by 2036.
Much of the rest of the world, including China, Brazil and all of Africa, will freeze HFC use by 2024, reducing it to 20 percent of 2021 levels by 2045.
The Senate approved a Republican amendment to classify China as a developed country, which would have put it on the same HFC phase-out schedule as other developed countries, removing any competitive advantage it would have over US producers. Directs the Secretary of State to propose this change at a future meeting of signatories to the Montreal Protocol.
A small group of the world’s hottest countries — such as Bahrain, India, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — have the most lenient plan, freezing HFC use by 2028 and reducing it to about 15 percent of 2025 levels by 2047.
Republicans who opposed the pact argued that the provisions created an uneven playing field for American companies.
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the Senate’s top energy Republican, who sponsored a 2020 bill requiring new domestic regulation of HFCs, voted against ratification. “There is no excuse for any senator to give a donation to China at the expense of American taxpayers and American hardworking families,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor before the vote.
Americans for Prosperity, a political action committee founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, sent a letter to lawmakers last week saying ratification of the Kigali Amendment would be “an abdication of American sovereignty over environmental regulations” to the United Nations. The group also argued that it would raise the price of air conditioning, refrigeration and industrial refrigeration for American consumers.
But Francis Dietz, a spokesman for the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, an industry trade group, denied that. He said the HFC phase-out was happening regardless of what the Senate did with formal ratification of the treaty.
“We’ve been preparing for this for over a decade,” he said, adding: “If you’re a consumer, it won’t make any difference to you.”
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.