United Nations delegates will soon meet in Montreal to hash out the details of another international agreement to fight global warming — and your air conditioner is in their cross-hairs.
In 2016, UN members agreed to the Kigali Amendment to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas that’s used in lots of household appliances, including air conditioners and refrigerators.
The amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals was ratified by enough countries to come into effect in 2019. Now, delegates will convene on Friday to figure out the next steps.
Big chemical and air conditioning companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in HFC alternatives and have been pushing EPA and the U.N. to knock out their competitors. Environmentalists also back the Kigali Amendment as a tool to fight global warming.
However, the amendment’s opponents say not only do HFCs fall outside the scope of the Montreal Protocol — it’s a greenhouse gas, not an ozone depleter — the treaty will also make air conditioners more expensive, hurting poor people.
The New York Times reported in 2016 that “many of the replacement chemicals are manufactured by American chemical companies like Dow and Honeywell,” but would raise appliance costs.
India’s Council on Energy, Environment and Water estimated an HFC phase out would cost upwards of $38 billion by 2050 and keep millions of people from getting air conditioning — a deadly predicament during a heat wave. Only about 9 percent of Indian homes have air conditioners.
The cost of phasing out HFCs in China will likely be much higher because since most homes have an air conditioning unit. Under the new U.N. agreement, China will have to cut HFC use 20 percent by 2046.
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.
As fears shifted from ozone depletion to global warming, EPA and other regulatory agencies have turned their backs on HFCs.
President Donald Trump opposed the other global warming agreement the Obama administration joined, the Paris climate accord, but has so far been silent on the Kigali Amendment.
A Trump administration official told Axios that career State Department diplomat Judith Garber, not a top political appointee, to head the U.S. delegation in Montreal, signaling that enforcing the Kigali amendment is not a major priority.
Likewise, the State Department has not sent the Kigali Amendment to the Senate for formal ratification, as required by the U.S. Constitution.
Trump’s administration has also made no move to reissue recently struck down federal regulations meant to enforce the Kigali amendment. EPA unveiled rules in 2016 to crack down on HFCs in appliances, but a federal court struck them down.
Regardless of U.S. commitment, other countries implementing the Kigali Amendment could still phase out HFCs and provide markets for appliances using HFC alternatives that would otherwise be uneconomic. If enough countries get involved, HFC-free appliances could spill over into U.S. markets.
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