An international agreement negotiated by the Obama administration to phase out a potent greenhouse gas received enough support on Friday to go into effect in 2019.
Sweden’s ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol late last week means the treaty can go into effect in two years, the U.N. reported. What remains to be seen, however, is how the Trump administration handles the matter.
The State Department hasn’t sent the treaty to the Senate for approval as required by the U.S. Constitution, but it’s unclear whether or not Republican lawmakers will approve the amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
President Donald Trump promised in June to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but he’s so far remained silent on the Kigali Amendment.
The Obama administration negotiated the Kigali Amendment in 2015, just before U.N. delegates met in Paris, France to hash out a new global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy hailed the Kigali Amendment, which aimed to cut hydroflourocarbon (HFC) emissions. Proponents of the amendment said it could avert 0.5 degrees of projected global warming by the end of the century.
“Now the question is, will the U.S. ratify the amendment so American chemical companies can gain full access to new global markets for replacement chemicals,” former White House climate adviser Paul Bledsoe told The New York Times.
The Montreal Protocol was a global agreement from 1987 to phase out substances blamed for depleting the Earth’s ozone layer. In response, EPA actually pushed HFCs as a replacement for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC.
HFCs aren’t ozone-depleting, but they are greenhouse gases. As fears shifted from ozone depletion to global warming, EPA and other regulatory agencies began looking at ways to get rid of HFCs.
EPA imposed two regulations in 2016 to clamp down on HFCs from air conditioners and refrigerators, but agency efforts were challenged in court.
Two companies that manufacture products with HFCs filed suit, but big chemical companies actually favored the ban.
Companies, like Dow Chemical and Honeywell, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in HFC alternatives and have been pushing EPA and the U.N. to knock out their competitors. Major air conditioner makers urged Trump to keep EPA’s HFC phase out.
In August, a federal appeals court struck down EPA’s plan to cut HFCs from appliances. Judge Brett Kavanaugh ruled EPA could not use legal authority on regulating ozone-depleting substances to control a greenhouse gas.
“Climate change is not a blank check for the President,” Kavanaugh wrote in his opinion.
The Trump administration was forced to defend the rule in court, but it’s not clear where officials stand on the issue.
Montreal Protocol proponents say it’s been a major success, and has stabilized the size of the hole in the ozone layer. Some pointed to news from NASA that the ozone hole over Antarctica is the smallest it’s been on record.
But this year’s record-small ozone hole had nothing to do with humans, according to NASA.
“Scientists said the smaller ozone hole extent in 2016 and 2017 is due to natural variability and not a signal of rapid healing,” NASA said in early November.
NASA said “an unstable and warmer Antarctic vortex … helped minimize polar stratospheric cloud formation in the lower stratosphere.” These clouds aid chemical reactions that deplete the ozone layer.
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