Critical Agreement Reached Between US, China: Eliminate HFC Climate Forcers

Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose a record 1.4% in 2012 (31.6 gigatons), according to the International Energy Agency, keeping the world on track for the worst scientific projections, global temperature rise of 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

The energy sector produces more than two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions.

"This puts us on a difficult and dangerous trajectory," Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist says. "If we don’t do anything between now and 2020, it will be very difficult because there will be a lot of carbon already in the atmosphere and the energy infrastructure will be locked in."

US-China Meeting Offers Some Hope

A key piece of the climate change puzzle is inching closer to being achieved since China has agreed to phase out use of climate forcing HFCs, which would eliminate 90 gigatons of the most potent greenhouse gas.

Before the meeting between President Obama and China’s President, Xi Jinping last week, the White House said the purpose would be to create a more comfortable relationship between the countries, not to negotiate "deliverables."

But they did agree to work through the Montreal Protocol to phase out the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are commonly used in air conditioners, refrigerators, insulating foams, solvents and aerosol products. 

As we’ve written about many times – If HFCs and other climate forcers are eliminated quickly (black carbon, methane, ground-level ozone), the rate of global warming would be cut IN HALF, keeping global temperature rise under the dreaded 2°C through the end of the century – and perhaps less than that. And it would slow Arctic ice melt by two-thirds. 

As a greenhouse gas, HFCs are 11,700 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. 

Until this meeting, China refused to address HFCs, saying it would impede economic growth.
In April, China agreed to accept $385 million to completely eliminate industrial production of HCFCs by 2030.

Leading Democrats had urged Obama to focus on climate change in the meeting, specifically HFCs. They want China to support North America’s proposal – which would phase them out under the Montreal Protocol. "This would send a powerful  and concrete message about the ability of United States and China to cooperate to address the enormous challenge of climate change," says their letter.

30 countries have yet to sign onto the proposal, but China’s about face makes it much more likely that they will agree. 

After the entire world agreed to ban CFCs under the Montreal Protocol in 1990 to protect the ozone layer, the use of HFCs and CHFCs skyrocketed as substitutes. Cheaper substitutes are readily available. Eliminating these climate forcers will also protect the stratospheric ozone layer, reducing skin cancers, cataracts, and suppression of the human immune system. And it will cut air pollution, the leading cause of preventable death in China and the region.

Under the Montreal Protocol, the US, Canada and Mexico have being trying to get an amendment passed for four years that would "gradually reduce consumption and production and control byproduct emissions of HFCs in all countries, and require reporting in these areas." Now China is on board. Heavy lobbying from the chemical industry in India and China has prevented action.  

"To date, China has been a key hold out to getting a deal on phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol which the U.S. has been pushing for the last four years.  President Barack Obama deserves great credit for his leadership and I applaud President Xi’s decision to commit Chinese leadership to help solve the climate crisis. This HFC agreement is a critical step to fulfill President Obama’s promise to respond to the threat of climate change, as he said in his inaugural address."


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