Kigali Amendment Would Phase Out Climate-Changing HFC Refrigerants. Will Trump Ratify It?

Screen capture. Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy

Our bet: no.

The Montreal Protocol was signed by President Reagan thirty years ago to get rid of ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that are used as refrigerants. It is one of the world's great environmental success stories, and has been responsible for a dramatic shrinking of the "ozone hole". Even with some backsliding, it continues to make a difference.

In 2016 most countries, including the USA under President Obama, agreed to the Kilgali Amendment that would phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which were adopted to replace CFCs but still cause problems as they are serious greenhouse gases. Under the amendment, new equipment would use Hydrofluoroolefin or HFOs as a refrigerant; they have far less impact on the atmosphere.

Then a new president got elected in 2016 who seems intent on reversing every single thing the last president did, including the Kilgali amendment, which he has to send to the Senate for ratification.

This is a problem for the entire industry; they have "invested hundreds of billions of dollars to innovate and commercialize next generation products, in anticipation of this trend and new market demands." The industry has formed the Alliance for responsible atmospheric policy to promote the amendment; members include American manufacturers and business groups include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and Business Roundtable. They write:

The Kigali Amendment gives American companies an advantage in technology, manufacturing, and investment which will lead to job creation. It will both strengthen America’s exports and weaken the market for imported products, while enabling U.S. technology to continue its world leadership role. The Kigali amendment is projected to increase U.S. manufacturing jobs by 33,000 by 2027, increase exports by $5 billion, reduce imports by nearly $7 billion, and improve the HVACR balance of trade. Without Kigali ratification, growth opportunities will be lost, along with the jobs to support that growth; the trade deficit will grow, and the U.S. share of global export markets will decline.

The industry notes that while the new equipment will cost a bit more, it has lower leak rates and the energy savings will pay for themselves in two to five years.

CEI screen shot

CEI/Screen capture

Alas, they are up against our longtime arch-villain, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, first seen on TreeHugger for their hilarious campaign CO2: We call it life! Their director, Myron Ebell, led the EPA transition team for Trump. According to Scientific American, "Ebell's views appear to square with Trump’s when it comes to EPA’s agenda." He has rounded up the usual suspects (including Agender Tom DeWeese!) to fight the Kilgali Amendment; the objection is that HFC's major problem is that they have a high global warming potential and since global warming doesn't exist, why bother?

The environmental benefits of replacing HFCs are minimal at best. The 1987 UN Montreal Protocol required that several types of refrigerants with potential to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer be replaced with HFCs or other non-ozone depleting compounds. This transformation has largely been completed. The Kigali Amendment would not advance the purpose of the Montreal Protocol, but would instead turn a treaty aimed at saving the ozone layer into a global warming treaty. Most studies have concluded that fully implementing the Kigali Amendment would reduce the global mean temperature by an unmeasurable amount by 2050.

They say that consumers will pay more because the replacement refrigerants cost more. And think of the churches and schools!

It is not just consumers who will be harmed by the Kigali Amendment. So too will millions of businesses and property owners that rely on air-conditioning or refrigeration—hotels, restaurants, office buildings, rail and truck refrigerated transport—and public buildings, such as schools, churches, theaters, and indoor sports facilities.

And think of the poor!

The Kigali Amendment going into force globally will have even more severe economic consequences for people in poor, hot countries who are just beginning to be able to afford air conditioning. The International Energy Agency released a report in May, The Future of Cooling, that projected that, “The global stock of air conditioners in buildings will grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, up from 1.6 billion today.” This global transformation that can improve the lives of billions of people will be slowed significantly if air conditioning units become more expensive.

It seems like only yesterday we were saying on TreeHugger that replacing refrigerants was one of three things that had to be done so that all those new air conditioners wouldn't fry the planet. If Trump doesn't ratify Kilgali that will get a whole lot harder. And unfortunately, with buddies like Myron Ebell and the CEI, I suspect that we can all predict the outcome here.

montreal protocol timeline

Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy/Screen capture