It’s not every day you learn Congressional Republicans are excited to pass an Obama-era climate deal, but that seems to be the case when it comes to a treaty that would eliminate an obscure but potent greenhouse gas.
On June 4, a group of 13 Senate Republicans sent a letter to President Trump urging him to send them the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol for approval. Negotiated in 2016 under former President Obama and agreed on by leaders of 170 nations, the Kigali Amendment phases out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), substances developed for use in refrigerators and air conditioning units after the Montreal Protocol banned their ozone-destroying cousins, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), beginning in the late 1980s.
The rub: while HFCs don’t destroy ozone, they have about 1,000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Experts believe eliminating their use will stave off half a degree Celsius of global warming, which is why, when the deal was first agreed on, then-Secretary of State John Kerry hailed it as “the single most important step we could take at this moment to limit the warming of our planet.”
But for the U.S. to be party to the agreement, it requires a two thirds majority vote in the Senate. And while the Trump administration voiced support for Kigali last year, E&E News reports that the effort to eliminate HFCs has since hit snags, most notably the Environmental Protection Agency, which under the leadership of Scott Pruitt is far more interested in unwinding climate regulations than implementing them.
Hence the recent Senate letter, which conspicuously makes no mention of climate change or Obama. To these Republicans, the Kigali Amendment is simply good business. The letter notes that it’s projected to add 33,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs and generate $4.8 billion in export revenues in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration industries. Failure to ratify the amendment, meanwhile, could cede these economic benefits to China.
“We urge you to send this amendment to the Senate for consideration,” the letter reads. “The impacted industries in our country played a major role in shaping this amendment and are supportive of its ratification and implementation.”
David Doniger, Senior Strategic Director at the NRDC’s Climate and Clean Energy Program, said he hoped the letter is a signal that the Senate will move quickly to ratify the amendment if and when Trump sends it their way (no word on when that might happen, though).
“I think you’ll assume this will have general support from the Democrats,” Doniger told Earther. “What this letter signals is it’s also got substantial support from the Republicans and shouldn’t be controversial.”
In Doniger’s view, the reason for that bipartisan support is support from the industry that’s being regulated. Unlike, say, the Paris Agreement, which is fundamentally at odds with the survival of the fossil fuel industry, replacements for HFCs will come from the cooling industry, and should help it prosper.
“This is an agreement focused on a small set of industries [that] has the expertise, engagement, focus, formula for success to deal with these refrigerants, blowing agents, [and] solvents in a focused way,” Doniger said. “They are content to treat this as an industrial sector agreement.”
Although it wasn’t its intention at the time, implementing the Montreal Protocol has already had major climate benefits. A study published last year found that the phase-out of CFCs and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) under the Montreal Protocol had, between 2008 and 2014, yielded about half the climate benefit of all other regulations enacted by the EPA.