The Senate has historically been where climate policy dies. Most climate bills have no Republican support, and Democrats have not received the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation since 2010. The recent inflation-reduction law was a unique exception — $369 billion in climate and energy spending was pushed through 50 Democratic votes under an opaque process. It’s called “budget adjustment”.
But the Senate overturned the text on Wednesday and voted to approve an international agreement aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Sixty-nine senators, including 19 Republicans, voted to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which sets a timetable for the world to reduce the use of HFCs, or HFCs. (The Senate must approve international treaties by a two-thirds majority before the president can ratify them.)
“The ratification of the Kigali Amendment, along with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, is the most powerful blow against climate change that any Congress has ever taken,” Senator Chuck Schumer said after the vote.
HFCs are chemicals used in heating and cooling equipment such as refrigerators, air conditioners, and heat pumps. It was adopted in the 1990s as an alternative to another chemical, CFCs, which have been shown to destroy the ozone layer.
In 1987, in a historic display of international cooperation, every country in the world came together to ratify the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out CFCs. But it turned out later that the alternative chemicals created new problems. When HFCs leak into the atmosphere, they can be thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide at heating the planet.
So in 2016, the world came together again to negotiate the Kigali Amendment, an update to the Montreal Protocol that requires participating countries to cut HFC pollution by at least 80 percent by 2050. It’s a plan scientists estimate can cut half a degree Celsius ( 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming by the end of the century—a significant amount considering the planet has already warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the pre-industrial era. But former President Donald Trump did not send the amendment to the Senate for approval.
However, the United States took action through another path. In December 2020, Congress passed a bipartisan law called the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which requires American companies to reduce production and use of HFCs by 85 percent within 15 years. Federal agencies have already begun implementing new rules to limit HFCs, as required by law, by preventing illegal imports of the chemicals.
The law was supported by the manufacturing and chemical industries, which also lobbied the United States to agree to the Kigali Amendment. As Jan Chemnek of E&E News notes, phasing out HFCs “doesn’t really present any downside to American companies.”
That’s because the US chemical, heating, and refrigeration industries have cleaner alternatives at the ready, and are capitalizing on market occupation of these new chemicals internationally — especially as global warming increases demand for air conditioning. But even though companies are taking action domestically, if the US fails to ratify the amendment, US companies will eventually face trade restrictions in countries that have joined the agreement. Proponents said ratification of the amendment would help the United States outperform China, which has been slower to adopt alternatives. It has been a major priority for President Joe Biden, who submitted the amendment to the Senate for approval last November.
“The ratification of Kigali means ensuring that US companies control the export markets,” Senator Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, told his Senate colleagues on Tuesday. Citing industry estimates, he said ratification could stimulate 33,000 new US manufacturing jobs. But “failure to certify means that US companies that employ tens of thousands of people across the country will not be able to sell many of their products in major countries.”