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U.S. becomes 137th nation to agree to phase down super-pollutants

The Senate ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which tackles climate pollution from hydrofluorocarbons

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Window air conditioning units sit in windows in New York.

Window air conditioning units sit in windows in New York. In a major action to address climate change, the Senate on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, ratified an international agreement that compels the United States and other countries to limit use of hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning that are far more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Jenny Kane, Associated Press

With bipartisan Senate ratification, the United States just became the 137th nation to agree to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, which are deemed climate super-pollutants. Wednesday, the Senate approved the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol.

The Senate ratified the global treaty by a vote of 69-27. The lead sponsor was Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La.

Hydrofluorocarbons are used in air conditioners and refrigerators and have been deemed “thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide,” according to a statement from the White House. The United States has led the way in developing and manufacturing more environmentally friendly substitutes and ratification could create as many as 33,000 new jobs, $4.8 billion in increased exports and $12.5 billion in economic output, according to federal estimates.

President Joe Biden in a press briefing hailed Senate ratification as a “historic, bipartisan win for American workers and industry. Ratifying the Kigali Amendment will allow us to lead the clean technology markets of the future, by innovating and manufacturing those technologies here in America. Ratification will spur the growth of manufacturing jobs, strengthen U.S. competitiveness, and advance the global effort to combat the climate crisis.”

According to The Washington Post, “U.S. climate envoy John F. Kerry, who was in the Rwandan capital of Kigali when the amendment was negotiated, said the Senate vote ‘was a decade in the making and a profound victory ​for the climate and the American economy.’”

The article noted the treaty, which required support from two-thirds of the senators, had an unusual alliance of backers, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Kerry issued a statement that helped explain the diverse alliance, noting, “Business supported it because it drives American exports, climate advocates championed it because it will avoid up to a half a degree of global warming by the end of the century, and world leaders backed it because it ensures strong international cooperation.”

Others also hailed the treaty’s potential to help the environment.

“These heat-trapping pollutants used in refrigerators and air conditioners are 1,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide. With the Senate’s approval, the United States joins 137 nations, including China and India, to ratify or accept the treaty amendment,” according to a news release from the Environmental Defense Fund.

David Doninger, a senior strategic director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an international nonprofit, said in a written statement that hydrofluorocarbons are climate pollutants “that are helping drive severe storms, floods, heat and wildfires across the U.S. and around the world. Pound for pound, HFCs pack hundreds to thousands of times the climate-warming punch of carbon dioxide and their use has been steadily and dangerously rising.”

China and India have both previously ratified the amendment.

According to a State Department briefing paper, “The Montreal Protocol, which also regulates the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances, is one of the most successful international environmental agreements. It is expected to restore the stratospheric ozone layer by 2065, avoiding 443 million cases of skin cancer, approximately 2.3 million skin cancer deaths, and more than 63 million cases of cataracts in the United States alone, with even greater benefits worldwide.”