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Senate passes Kigali amendment to curb hydrofluorocarbons

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With broad bipartisan support, the Senate on Wednesday ratified by a 69-27 vote a global treaty that would sharply limit the emissions of super-pollutants that frequently leak from air conditioners and other types of refrigeration.

The treaty — known as the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol — compels countries to phase out the use of the potent hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are hundreds to thousands of times as powerful as carbon dioxide in speeding up climate change.

The United States became the 137th country to ratify the amendment — and negotiators said the move would encourage the remaining nations to follow suit. The earlier Montreal Protocol clamped down on the production of ozone-depleting substances.

US 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 treaty, which had to win support of at least two-thirds of the Senate, brought together an unusual coalition of supporters including the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In a statement, Kerry said that “businesses supported it because it drives American exports; climate advocates championed it because it will avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of the century; and world leaders backed it because it ensures strong international cooperation.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) said that ratifying the Kigali Amendment and adopting the Inflation Reduction Act was “the strongest one-two punch against climate change any Congress has ever taken.”

He said the treaty would “reduce global temperatures by about half a degree Celsius by the end of this century, a little talked about fact with very significant impact.” That reduction equals about 1 degree Fahrenheit.

He called it a “win-win in our fight against climate change.”

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said the ratification showed President Biden’s “continuing climate leadership, and his appreciation of the need for speed to slow warming in the near term, avoid climate tipping points and slow the self-reinforcing feedback.”

Sentiment supporting ratification has been growing in recent years.

The Senate, with Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) as the lead sponsor, had during the 2020 lame-duck session passed the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to carry out most of the regulations that would be required under ratification. Kennedy’s state is home to Mexichem Fluor and Honeywell plants that make the chemicals.

Most US industrial manufacturers of air conditioning had already been pushing for the adoption of the treaty in the name of American jobs and competitiveness.

“The Senate is signaling that Kigali counts for the jobs it will create; for global competitive advantage it creates; the additional exports that will result and it counts for US technology preeminence,” Stephen Yurek, president of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute said in a statement. He said that US manufacturers already supply 75 percent of the world’s air-conditioning equipment and that global demand was “exploding.”

Still, many senators opposed the action. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said domestic legislation was adequate. “We did it here, we did it right. We don’t need to get entangled in another United Nations treaty,” he said.

Barrasso also complained that “this treaty is especially bad because it doubles down on the practice of treating China as a developing country.” Like all other developing countries, under the treaty China gets a grace period before it must reduce HFCs.

Americans for Prosperity, supported by the Koch family, sent a letter to lawmakers urging a no vote on the Kigali Amendment, warning that the vote could be included in the organization’s annual legislative scorecard. The letter said the treaty “would impose costly restrictions, serving as a consumer tax on air conditioning and refrigeration, on the American people and give an unfair advantage to China and other industrial competitors of the United States.”

Other Republicans have opposed the treaty. Three senators — James M. Inhofe (Okla.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — joined Barrasso in placing holds on the Kigali Amendment in an effort to block a vote, according to two individuals who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the holds were not public.

But Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), who had teamed with Kennedy and whose state is the lowest-lying in the country, said that “it’s not every day that you have a full-court press from the business community and are joined with a full-court press from the environmental community.”

Dan Lashof, director of the World Resources Institute, said US manufacturers have been “innovators, so this just strengthens the US role in promoting solutions and will strengthen the US economy, as well as being a big win for the climate.”

Maxine Joselow contributed to this report.

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