US ratifies global pact to phase out potent polluting gases

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The US Senate voted on Wednesday to approve an international climate treaty that would phase out the use of potent greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

By a vote of 69 to 27, the Senate agreed that the US should join the 2016 Kigali Amendment, alongside 137 other countries, and pledge to reduce the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons.

The ratification of the updated treaty in the US Senate represents the second major piece of climate legislation to be passed in two months.

Last month, lawmakers passed Biden’s flagship $369bn economic and climate package, the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill that contained some of the most significant climate change legislation enacted in the US.

Significantly, the US Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group, had also signalled its support for the Kigali Amendment as a boon for industry.

“Adopting the amendment will safeguard the competitiveness of American manufacturers and expand economic opportunities for US businesses by allowing them to capture a larger share of global markets for heating and cooling,” said Marty Durbin, senior vice-president of policy at the Chamber of Commerce.

John Kerry, US special presidential envoy on climate, said the vote on hydrofluorocarbons was “a decade in the making” and “a profound victory for the climate and the American economy”. 

Joe Biden said the ratification of the treaty delivered “a historic, bipartisan win for American workers and industry”, and would spur growth in manufacturing jobs in the US as American companies push to develop alternatives to hydrofluorocarbons.

Man-made hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were designed to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which damage the ozone layer.

CFCs were phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, one of the world’s most successful environmental treaties, and scientists say the thinning ozone layer over the Antarctic is now starting to heal.

However, HFCs are a highly potent greenhouse gas that scientists estimate are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Diplomats agreed to amend the successful Montreal Protocol in 2016 to extend it to HFCs.

Several Republican senators voted in support of the amendment. Bill Cassidy, the Republican senator from Louisiana who supported the amendment, said the treaty would support companies in his state that manufactured HFC alternatives.

Paul Bledsoe, a former White House climate adviser under Bill Clinton, now at Washington’s Progressive Policy Institute, said the ratification “could be a turning point in US climate politics, where finally sensible Republicans join Democrats in taking climate action because of the obvious economic benefits to the US”.

Additional reporting by Myles McCormick

Climate Capital

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