Nearly 200 nations agree to cut HFCs to reduce greenhouse gases

Nearly 200 nations hammered out a legally binding deal to cut back on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners, a Rwandan minister announced to loud cheers on Saturday, in a major step against climate change.

The deal, which includes the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China, divides countries into three groups with different deadlines to reduce the use of factory-made hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases, which can be far more damaging than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases.

As Rwanda’s minister for natural resources, Vincent Biruta, began spelling out the terms of the deal shortly after sunrise on Saturday, applause from negotiators who had been up all night drowned out his words.

Under the pact, developed nations, including much of Europe and the U.S., commit to reducing their use of the gases incrementally, starting with a 10 per cent cut by 2019 and reaching 85 per cent by 2036.

Hot, developing countries given more time

Two groups of developing countries will freeze their use of the gases by either 2024 or 2028, and then gradually reduce their use. India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and the Gulf countries will meet the later deadline.

China, the world’s top carbon dioxide emitter, won’t be taking action to curb HFC emissions until 2024.


HFCs were introduced in the 1980s as a substitute for ozone-depleting gases. But their danger as a potent greenhouse gas has grown as air conditioner and refrigerator sales have soared in emerging economies like China and India. (Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)

Several countries have said they need more time because they have fast-expanding middle classes and hot climates, and because India feared damaging its growing industries.

India’s lead negotiator for the deal, Manoj Kumar Singh, said in Kigali that they were “very comfortable.” with the deal, which is an amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

The deal binding 197 nations crowns a wave of measures to help fight climate change this month. Last week, the 2015 Paris Agreement to curb climate-warming emissions passed its required threshold to enter into force after India, Canada and the European Parliament ratified it.

But unlike the Paris agreement, the Kigali deal is legally binding, has very specific timetables and has an agreement by rich countries to help poor countries adapt their technology.

Phase-out will cost billions

The United Nations says phasing out HFCs will cost billions of dollars.

But U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said on Saturday that costs were: “reasonable for the kind of reductions we’re going to get.”

A quick reduction of HFCs could be a major contribution to slowing climate change, avoiding perhaps 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) of a projected rise in average temperatures by 2100, scientists say.

Hydrofluorocarbons were introduced in the 1980s as substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). While HFCs do not deplete ozone, they are potent greenhouse gases.

The UN says the next meeting in 2017 will determine how much of the billions of dollars needed to finance the reduction of HFCs will be provided by countries.

HFCs are less plentiful than carbon dioxide, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said last month that they currently emit as much pollution as 300 coal-fired power plants each year.

That amount will rise significantly over the coming decades as air conditioning units and refrigerators reach hundreds of millions of new people.

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